For the many who saw and loved Schoolhouse Rock Live! when it played the Greenway Court Theatre a year and a half ago, there’s some great news. Schoolhouse Rock Live! Too has arrived, with 20 more classic Schoolhouse Rock songs/lessons performed live by a stellar cast of triple threat talents and a rocking live band.


If like me, you’re not part of the Schoolhouse Rock generation who sat glued to their TV sets during the show’s original run, here’s some background:  For the past 36 years, Schoolhouse Rock (a Saturday morning cartoon series that teaches history, grammar, math, science and politics through clever, tuneful songs) has been entertaining and educating kids of all ages. More recently, the stage version, Schoolhouse Rocks Live!, has become a favorite production of middle and high school drama departments.

Schoolhouse Rock Live! centered around a young schoolteacher out of whose TV set emerged a quintet of characters who showed him how to win over his students with imagination and music. Rather than duplicate the previous format, Schoolhouse Rock Live! Too wisely opts for something brand new.  This time around, we’re in a diner (a great set by Adam Flemming) in danger of closing. Its owner Nina (Lisa Tharps), cook Cookie (Michael “Milo” Lopez), waitress Julie (Jayme Lake), and upstairs neighbor Rebecca “Becky Sue” (Kelly Meyersfield) need to come up with a plan to save the diner.  With the arrival of musician Lucky (Harley Jay) and third-grade teacher Tom (Brian Wesley Turner), talk (and memories) turn to Schoolhouse Rock, and as the sextet recall favorite songs from the TV show, ideas about how to save the diner begin to pop into their heads.

Favorite songs featured in Schoolhouse Rock Live! Too include “The Rockin’ Medley,” “Four-Legged Zoo,” “Fireworks,” “Naughty Number Nine,” “Elementary My Dear,” “Dollars and Sense,” “Interjections,” “Conjunction Junction,” “I Got Six,” “ Good Eleven,” “Lucky Seven Sampson,”  “Body Machine,” “I’m Just a Bill,”  “Three Ring Government,” “Them Not-So-Dry-Bones,” “Telegraph Line,” and “No More Kings.” Any of them bring back memories? 

Sunday’s audience was just about evenly divided between adults and kids under 12, and each group seemed to be having as terrific a time as the other.  Children can enjoy the bouncy melodies and clever lyrics (and learn something at the same time) while adults can savor the cast and band’s show-stopping performances.

“Electricity” has the entire cast out in the audience with hand-held flashlights demonstrating guess what?  “Fireworks” celebrates the 4th Of July with the three men sporting red white and blue feather boas.  Tharps belts out a soulful “Naughty Number Nine” with some of the most powerful pipes you’re likely to hear.  “Lucky Seven Sampson” has Jay in country star mode a-singin’ and a-strummin’ along on the guitar.  “I’m Just A Bill” explains how a bill becomes a law with the titular “Bill” appearing twice, as a hand puppet and then full-sized (Turner inside). Turner turns vaudeville showman in “Tax Man Max,” featuring the girls in money-themed headdresses (one of them an old-fashioned cash register). “Three Ring Circus” has the girls demonstrating the three branches of government with beribboned hula hoops. “No More Kings,” about the Boston Tea Party, has everyone carrying giant tea bags. Many of the numbers feature clips from the original TV series projected above the set as the cast performs them live.

Comedy director extraordinaire Rick Sparks does double duty here, choreographing each number with nifty dance steps, and with a cast who can dance as well as they can sing, the results are infectious fun.  Jay is a charismatic boy-next-door/rock star. Lake follows her stellar performance in It’s The Housewives with equally electric work here. Lopez has great comic chops to do Dom DeLuise proud. Meyersfield is a petite bundle of energy and talent. Tharps (a breathtaking dramatic actress in Sea Change) has a voice that can reach the rafters. Turner is an ingratiating song and dance man.  Together they make for a dream ensemble.

Musical director Cody Gillette and his bandmates (Anthony Zenteno on guitar and bass and Eric Tatuaca on drums) provide rockin’ live accompaniment.  Jeremy Pivnick once again dazzles with his lighting. Kat Marquet’s costumes are a feast of imagination, inspired by the original TV show.  Props and SFX props design and execution are by Daavid Hawkins.  

One element which could be improved is the sound design (loud and strident) not helped by the Rent-style head mikes which amplify the cast’s every inhaled and exhaled breath, even when speaking.  They look rock concert ready, but the smaller mikes used in most musicals would be a big improvement.  Also, the many kids who needed to leave for potty breaks bear out South Coast Rep’s wisdom in inserting an intermission even in hour long shows. At one hour and twenty minutes, Schoolhouse Rock Live! Too could stand a kids-friendly intermission.

Other than these relatively minor quibbles, Schoolhouse Rock Live! Too is an all around winner, and maybe even better than the first one was. Children and grownups alike will enjoy rocking out to Schoolhouse Rock Live! Too.

Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
June 14, 2009
                                                           Photos: Ed Krieger

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