Young thespians shine in Assembly ACT’s Junie B. Jones

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BURRILLVILLE – For 10-year-old Paige Huguenin, it’s a chance to be a bit more sassy than she’d ever try to get away with at home.

And for 13-year-old Liam Boulay, it is a first-time opportunity to play a character he can really relate to.

A cast of 17 young actors were hard at work rehearsing for their moment in the spotlight, before Junie B. Jones the Musical Jr. started at the Assembly Theatre. In performances on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 27 and 28, the group of local thespians, ages 5 to 16, took the stage for a Broadway Junior adaptation of Barbara Park’s best-selling books.

With “four or five,” previous shows under her belt, Huguenin, who plays Junie’s former best friend Lucille, was among this musical’s more experienced cast members.

“It’s fun stepping out of my comfort zone,” said Huguenin, noting that Lucille is more of a “girly girl,” than she normally would be. “It’s weird wearing a dress for a change.”

“I do like being able to show a little more attitude than I would be able to at home,” added Huguenin, who says she wants to either sing, or work at an animal rescue when she’s older. “I love being on stage.”

The show uses music and comedy to bring the audience through the challenges, stresses and mishaps as quirky, energetic protagonist Junie takes on the challenges of first grade.

“This is my first show, so it’s very exciting,” said 12-year-old Meredith Peloquin, who plays Chenille, one of Lucille’s new best friends. “I like that my character is a twin.”

Peloquin, and many of the other performers, had been waiting more than a year for the opportunity. Auditions for the musical originally took place in February 2020.

At the time, Holly Dumaine-Picard, executive chairperson of the non-profit group that runs the theater, was planning for a cast of 25. But as COVID-19 hit the region last March, the historic 354-seat venue would go dark, and such live performances – particularly large-scale musicals – would be one of the last things to return to the region.

“Once we decided it was safe, we also decided to downsize,” Dumaine-Picard said.

The Assembly Theatre

Those who had previously auditioned for Junie B. were offered the chance perform their original part, or take on a different character once the show, finally, was back on the schedule.

For Peloquin, the delay meant a change in role. Her sister Hayden Peloquin has signed on to play her original part, Bobby Jean Piper.

Peloquin said she can relate to many elements in the role of Chenille, a well-composed cheerleader.

“I’m very sassy, and if I’m in a bad mood, I can be a little mean,” Peloquin admitted.

Dumain-Picard had worked with theater troupe Inspiration Performing Arts Company on a virtual performance of Godspell since the theater began its slow reopening, and earlier this month, the groups collaborated to offer Into the Woods Jr. in person.

But Junie B. was the first post-pandemic show for Assembly ACT – the venue’s in-house theater company.

The executive director said that with ACT, the kids participate in all elements of the production, from costumes and set, to the more technical aspects of theater.

“We’re very excited,” Dumaine-Picard said prior to the show. “We didn’t know if we’d be able to do it.”

Now back at full force and casting for the next show, Little Women, to take place in September, the East Avenue theater offered concessions, including beer, wine and snacks, when doors were open for the first performance Friday night.

“It’s a nice addition, to sit and drink and watch a show,” Dumaine-Picard said.

Bouley, who will also have his first experience on a big stage this weekend, said at the dress rehearsal Thursday that he’s “a little nervous.” Character Sheldon Potts, a nerdy first-grader with stage fright who loves music, Boulay said, is a lot like him.

“He’s sort of a performer, but he also gets scared really easily – and he hates when things are dirty,” Boulay said.

The theater is now casting for Little Women, to be performed in early December.

Editor’s note: This article was updated after the weekend’s performances.

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