From 1973 to 1985, largely in response to a call for more educational programming, the ABC Television Network aired a series of animated shorts on Saturday mornings known as "Schoolhouse Rock." Interspersed between full length cartoon shows, each vignette featured a catchy, fun song that distilled grammar, math, science, economics or civics in a non-intimidating manner.
In 1993, the best of the beloved tunes were culled into what became "Schoolhouse Rock, Live!," which achieved great success off Broadway and elsewhere. Weston Playhouse Theatre Company kicked off its 2016 summer season with its kinetic Young Company production of this now-classic. The enthusiastic reception by last Thursday's preview audience, comprised largely of some 70 youngsters bussed in from Springfield, Vt. and their counselors, was positive proof that "Schoolhouse Rock, Live!" continues to appeal to small fry, as well as the many adults who can still recite their favorite lyrics from the show.
"Schoolhouse Rock, Live!" wraps several songs about nouns, predicates and such around a skeletal story about Tom, a twenty-something making his debut as a third grade school teacher the very next day. From a restless night's sleep emerge a cadre of irreverent characters, all "parts of him," to put his trepidations, well, to bed.
Director Susan Haefner marshaled the talented ensemble of actors, deftly having the cast members interact with young audience members prior to the performance, many of whom were being introduced to live theatre. Most importantly, each cast member maintained an upbeat demeanor - the fun they were having was contagious.
As our hero, Tom, Ben Walker's nice mix of righteous indignation and cluelessness allowed the audience to identify with his predicament. His pratfalls as the show began met with howls of laughter from the young ones.
The production's structure afforded each cast member an opportunity to shine. Michael Canada's deep singing voice fit his revivalist take on the words "but, or," as well as "and," backed by a "doo-wah" chorus of Renee Gagner, Erica Malachowski and Emily Kristen Morris, crooning "Conjunction Junction: What's your function?"
Michael Seltzer's spirited rendition of "Just a Bill" made one long for the days when Congress actually worked that well. That number led right into one of the show's many highlights: the preamble to the Constitution as a bouncy anthem sung by the entire Company.
Emily Kristen Morris, dressed in an out of this world skirt by costumer Jennifer Salter, was bubbly, great fun as "Interplanet Janet." Javier Spivey rounded out the ensemble, doing double-duty as choreographer of a cast always in motion.
I was not familiar with "Schoolhouse Rock, Live!" prior to seeing the delightful performance on Thursday, having grown up with "Captain Kangaroo," prior to the birth of "Sesame Street," "The Electric Company" and its progeny. Long may this Schoolhouse Rock!
Afternoon performances of "Schoolhouse Rock, Live!," (essentially the "Junior" version which runs just over one very quick hour), continue at the Weston Rod and Gun Club through July 10. For ticket information, call the WPTC box office at (802) 824-5288 or visit its website at www.westonplayhouse.org.