‘Junie B. Jones’ goes by the book at Dover High School

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Dover High School senior Ave Burleigh, as title character Junie B. Jones, in the school’s stage adaption of the popular children’s book series. The show will be performed Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the school’s auditorium off Del. 8. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER –– The children’s book series “Junie B. Jones” is leaving its pages and coming to life this weekend when the familiar characters take the stage at Dover High School.

The series includes 29 books and starts off with Junie in kindergarten and follows her over several years. But the musical focuses exclusively on her first-grade year.

The series gained popularity in the mid-1990s after the initial book was released in 1992 –– before any of the student actors were even born.

“I know that it’s a younger play but I picked it out and hoped the kids would get into it because it’s a series most of them read when they were in elementary school,” said director Janna Whitenight.

“I’m actually really excited,” said Ave Burleigh, a senior playing the lead role of Junie B. “I read the books when I was a kid and this is my first leading role and everything’s been going great since we started rehearsing in December.”

And since it’s based on a children’s series most elementary pupils are familiar with, all Capital School District second-graders will have the opportunity to see the musical on Tuesday after it premieres to the public this weekend.

“I’m excited for the little kids to see it,” junior Carolyn Lewis said. “I saw it in second grade and I remember being mesmerized, so it’s all coming full circle for me now. I just hope the kids like it as much as I did.”

Carolyn plays the role of May Murkee, Junie B.’s nemesis. May refuses to add the B. to Junie’s name and the two rub each other the wrong way throughout the series and the musical is no exception.

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Inside a classroom, from right, Korey Johnson, as teacher Mr. Scary, presides over students Rhyan Pierce as Lucille, Ave Burleigh as Junie B. Jones, De’Marco Taylor as Lennie, Wenston Bryant as Herb and Carolyn Lewis as May.

The cast is mostly students, but two teachers will be taking the stage in the musical as well.

“It was on my bucket list and a student dropped out so the two of us stepped in,” said business teacher Wendy Reed-Ridgeway, who is playing Junie’s Spanish-speaking friend Jose.

Ms. Reed-Ridgeway was able to get her friend and co-worker, Trina Stump, in the performance too.

“Coming to rehearsal after a long day is the best,” said Ms. Stump, one of Dover High’s two culinary arts teachers. She’s playing the role of the bus driver, Mr. Wu.

“I don’t have any of the actors in my classes so it’s been cool to get to know them and now I see them in the hall and it’s like we have our cool acting thing going on.”

For new actors like Ms. Reed-Ridgeway and Ms. Stump, the musical can be a little nerve-wracking considering a lot of weight of the performance is placed on the actors because the musical relies on a minimalistic set and few props.

“The set is simple but it works,” freshman Rhyan Pierce said. “It’s not too much pressure, I think for those of us who have acted before, and we all work together, so I think it will be fine.”

“It’s fun because the kids have treated us like one of them even though they’re very good, experienced actors and this is a very new experience for us,” Ms. Reed-Ridgeway said.

Freshman Wenston Bryant is one of the few students who doesn’t have acting experience. “Junie B.” is his first time taking the stage for anything other than chorus concerts.

“I just saw the flyer in the choir room and decided to try out with a friend,” he said. “I’m really excited to be a part of it. I was nervous when we first started rehearsing but now that we’re so far into it, I’ve relaxed a lot.”

Wenston plays Herb, Junie’s best friend who also has a crush on her. He’s a new kid at the school and one of several new friends Junie B. gains at the beginning of her first-grade year. The musical also includes some growing pains as Junie B. gains these new friends because she loses some of her kindergarten friends she began the series with.

“Junie B. Jones” will be performed in the Dover High School Auditorium off Del. 8. Show times are 6 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 to students and are available at the door.

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Ave Burleigh, as Junie B. Jones, has trouble with De’Marco Taylor, right, in a dual role as school nerd Sheldon, while Alyssa Perez, center, as lunch lady Mrs. Gutzman, serves Galya Cooper and Crystal Solomon as twins Chenille and Camille.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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