The company of Schoolhouse Rock Live!. Photo: Company Outcast
Schoolhouse Rock Live!
Book by George Keating, Scott Ferguson, & Kyle Hall
Based on Schoolhouse Rock! by Davis McCall
Directed by Jay Padilla-Hayter
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
When the original Schoolhouse Rocks! Shorts premiered in 1973, I was 11 years old and in the last stage of watching Saturday morning cartoons before I decided about a year later that I had primarily outgrown them, except for vintage Looney Tunes. You never outgrow Bugs Bunny.
This live stage version of the venerable educational shorts uses several classic tunes – “Conjunction Junction”, and “I’m Just A Bill” being the most iconic – to prepare an anxious young teacher (director Jay Padilla-Hayter) for her first day in the classroom. The premise is slim but enough for a 60-minute show directed at young audiences.
The original, longer version played on Broadway and some numbers are cut for this version, but the aforementioned classics are there and the short run time doesn’t overtax the children in the audience. I was fortunate enough to have several in attendance at the matinee I attended, so I was able to gauge how effectively the show connected to them.
They loved it, as did the adults. When Joe Monroe enters dressed as A Bill, “headed up to Capital Hill”, the joke of the costume works whatever your age. It is silly and highly informative. Most of the songs are like that, although Nicole Greenwood leans into the slow, almost mournful “Figure Eight” with a rueful, gentle delivery. The ensemble did a great job, although the acoustics in the NoCo space are no actor’s friend and I wished for a little more projection at times. But the intimacy works in their favor, and the kids on the front rows seemed ready to join them onstage.
Even though director Padilla-Hayter has assembled a diverse ensemble, race, and culture are notably missing in the songs included here until “Great American Melting Pot” came along towards the end, providing a foundational understanding of the essential role of immigration in United States history.
Schoolhouse Rock! had at least two iterations on broadcast television, and the musical draws on the original 1970s collection of animated shorts, the songs of which were composed by Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg, George Newall, Lynn Ahrens, Kathy Mandry, and Tom Yohe. I have never seen any of the ’90s revival and watching this show made me curious to check them out.
For now, the stage version was a pleasing blend of nostalgia and a renewed sense of discovery and learning. Adverbs? RIght! That’s how they work!
But where, prey tell, is “Three Is A Magic Number”?
Featuring Abby Braune, Nicole Greenwood, Joe Monroe, Jay Padilla-Hayter, & Lindsay Stratton.
Schoolhouse Rock Live!
August 25, 26, September 1, 2 @ 7:30 pm
August 27 & September 3 @ 3:00 pm
NoCo Arts Center
628 Michigan Avenue
Jeffersonville, IN 47130
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.