Learning Can Be Fun
As kids and parents during the ’70’s can attest, bite size lessons in math, science, grammar and social studies on television, set to music and taught by colorful cartoon characters, were faster, more memorable and longer lasting than a year spent in a dusty classroom. These mini lessons, first televised during commercial breaks between Saturday morning cartoons, were catchy, funny and unforgettable. The succinct bits of information became so popular they sparked their own cartoon series, as well as recordings and DVDs, and ultimately became a stage musical revue featuring several of the series’ greatest hits.
The glue that holds this hour-long version together is Tom, a new teacher waking up on the first day of school with reservations about how to reach his students. He tries to take his mind off his worries by watching TV and stumbles upon “Schoolhouse Rock.” Suddenly his personality splits into five other characters who help Tom regain his confidence and remember something he’d once discovered: Learning can be fun.
The cast re-acquaints the novice teacher with a dozen rousing, unforgettable songs, thanks to Ryan T. Nelson’s expert musical direction and elevated by Ericka Mac’s sassy, spirited choreography. Co-creator of the original stage version and an original cast member, George Keating works his directorial magic, keeping his production moving and shaking all over the stage, up and down the aisles and into the audience.
Once again the Marriott has assembled a crackerjack, first-rate ensemble of actor/singer/dancers. Brian Bohr makes a charming, likably boyish Tom who, after being introduced to a couple of the celebrated songs, joins in the numbers. Bohr capably provides the show’s finale (“The Tale of Mr. Morton”) that demonstrates the new skills he’s mastered. Holly Stauder stands out as Dina with her ode to Women’s Rights, “Sufferin’ Till Suffrage,” and her grammatical shout-out, “Interjections!” Petite Rose Le Tran as Shulie helps “Unpack Your Adjectives” and becomes a sweet superhero as “Interplanet Janet.” Brandi Wooten plays ditzy Dori who leads a Country Western hoedown in “A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing” and teaches everyone “The Preamble.” The outstanding Zachary Gray plays magician George, demonstrating that “Three is a Magic Number,” and “Just a Bill,” taking audiences on his journey toward becoming a law. But the production’s superstar is Jackson Evans as Joe. Whether leading the cast through a high-energy game of tag (“Ready or Not, Here I Come!”) or the engineer leading everyone’s favorite song, the bluesy “Conjunction Junction,” Jackson’s comic talent and sardonic wit peppers everything.
Short on plot but towering with the lessons it teaches and the fond memories it evokes, Marriott’s new production is especially recommended for children, grades 2-6 (along with their parents and grandparents). If, unbelievably, a child is unfamiliar with these wonderfully catchy, colorful instructional ditties then this show is a must-see. But if audiences are simply looking for a joyful, intoxicating blast from the past to share with their kids, this is the best way to both introduce young people to theatre and put a spring in everyone’s step.