Schoolhouse Rock Live!
Children of the '70s and early '80s no doubt remember educational Schoolhouse Rock tunes like "Conjunction Junction," and "I'm Just a Bill." Similarly, children of the '90s likely experienced the catchy musical cartoon shorts when the series was put back on the air. Both the images from the series and many of the songs have made the Schoolhouse Rock brand a part of American culture. In 1996, a musical theater adaptation of the material called Schoolhouse Rock Live! premiered, and last weekend professional theater company Childsplay performed the show at Samueli Theater.
While the familiar cartoon images, as well as the memorable voice of Jack Sheldon (who originally sang many of the Schoolhouse Rock songs), were missed, Childsplay's minimalist production captivated the attention of parents and children alike. In fact, the atmosphere that parents brought to the theater was one of nostalgia as they all seemed to be chanting the old tunes — both as an effort to increase their children's enthusiasm for the show as well as to celebrate their fondness for the material; but as soon as the show began, the audience became hooked into Childsplay's adaptation.
Basically, the premise of the show is that there is a schoolteacher who wakes up one morning and is reluctant to go to work. Three other performers portray aspects of the teacher's mind. The teacher turns on the television, sees that a Schoolhouse Rock cartoon is on, and the rest of the show essentially consists of the schoolteacher being encouraged, by his mental peanut gallery, to teach various subjects through the performance of a cross-section of new and classic Schoolhouse Rock songs. The stage consists of a castle facade and a few furniture props that all look like they're constructed out of building blocks. There are various lighting effects and projections throughout the show to enhance the creative blocking [no pun intended] of the performers, and the amped-up, instrumental parts of the music are all playback.[
The relative silence in the audience — except for the moments when audience participation was solicited — proved that the show was constructed well enough to captivate the attention of the little 'uns during its one hour running time. At certain moments, parents may have been tempted to wince at the simplicity of the narrative; however, the show had decent pacing and admirable enough strokes of creativity to appeal to everyone. First of all, each member of the ensemble had terrific energy and a great voice. Secondly, some of the lighting effects were quite captivating.
In addition to the song and dance show of the nonprofit theater group, attendees were treated to the various learning and activity stations set up in the lobby of the Samueli. Schoolhouse Rock Live! was one of four other shows which are part of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts's Discovery Series. That, which is recommended for families and children ages 4 to 8, and the center's Explorer Series, which is suggested for families and children 7 and older, comprise the Family Series. All shows of the series feature a form of interactive pre-show activities. Future shows in the series include musical theater adaptations of other classic material, such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and various multi-media productions, including the West Coast premiere of a puppet show based on Paul Gallico's 1968 children's novel, Manxmouse.