The audience coming to see EMU’s Applied Drama and Theatre for the Young’s Production of “Junior High” did not expect to travel back to the 60s before the show started in the Sponberg Theatre in Quirk Hall, Friday night.
The characters of “Junior High” were already waiting in the theatre to tell their stories. Some audience members had to double-take when the pre-teens, played by the cast of adults, went on stage after sitting in the audience sporadically to get ready for class. It was a unique way of introducing the audience to the characters.
Written by Paul Patton and directed by his daughter, Emily Levickas, “Junior High” is based on the author’s experience in the eighth grade at Emerson Junior High in Detroit. This production was set in the 60s as Patton experienced when he was a boy.
Benny (Oren Levin), started the show talking to the audience as his future self about his school and classmates. A skinny kid and glasses, Benny didn’t quite fit in with his peers, the “Greasers” and “Frats.”
The song “Oh, What Fun I Had Fun at Thirteen” brought giggles and a transition to the minds of adolescents in the 1960s. The simple chorography accompanied the upbeat music.
The use of space for the stage was notable, as from scene to scene the characters would exit or stand on one side of the platform. An example would be the boys and girls bathroom. With no props other than chairs and a chalkboard chalked with images that portray a classroom, library and the interior of a house, the characters showed us, realistically, what was going on and where things were happening.
The cast did a wonderful job with what they had as well as capturing youth and the struggles of growing up. The character Benny was easily lovable as he was constantly picked on by the Frats.
Looking for a place to fit in and belong, Benny was shunned and left alone and later beaten by his peers. A bully (Travis Ealem) was the main cause of Benny’s problems. Ealem did a great job of playing the bully despite in his middle schools days not being the bully, but being bullied.
“It was weird at first but playing the bully was easier as far as being more dominant. It was weird to get back into the mindset on what would bullies do in that time and a lot of recollection of what I been through,” said Ealem.
Songs about driving at sixteen and hanging around with friends brought the friendships and the classic expectations of growing up and being young.
A light musical at first, “Junior High” also went dark with issues about freedom and control of parents and the abuse of bullying.
There was a discussion at the end about what the audience thought of the show. Similar when touring to schools, discussions would follow at the end for students to reflect.
Although a rather quick show, during the time it revealed a personal story of the true pains of middle school.
“I thought it was really good. Nothing I expected,” said sophomore criminal justice major, Chris Groat.
“It was very interesting. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a play,” said sophomore hotel and restaurant management major, Trevor Tucker.
Groat and Turner both agreed on relating to a character.
“It went back and forth. I could relate to the bully and also felt bad for the bully,” said Groat
Even though it was the first musical production of ADTY and they did not have a lot of time to prepare, the cast was dedicated and showed their best.
More for kids than adults, adults could still fall in love with the show as it can bring back memories of youth and development. With fun music and a message for everyone, “Junior High” was a musical left open for viewers to ponder who you were then and who you have become now.
“Junior High” will be touring to five middle schools where they will be performing for sixth-eighth graders.
Contactcmta_dtfy@emich.edufor more information or if interested in their 2016 winter tour—booking and adopting a school.