First, there was Schoolhouse Rock, a series of short educational music videos that covered subjects ranging from history, grammar, and math, etc. The series was the brainchild of a Madison Avenue adman when he noticed his kids could remember the lyrics to rock songs but not the rules of grammar. It premiered on the ABC Television Network in 1970 and it survives today on You Tube and other streaming services.
Schoolhouse Rock Live begins with what sounds like a modern school bell, but it is actually the alarm of Tom Mizer, a young teacher about to start his first day in the classroom.
As he awakes Tom (Michael Petrucci) begins to practice his teaching technique. In an attempt to relax and calm down he turns on the TV. What would be on but Schoolhouse Rock! He gets drawn into the show and yet begins to think he’s lost his mind becoming a teacher.
Tom has several imaginary friends helping him this first morning that lead into and setup the now classic Schoolhouse Rock songs; “A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing”, “Three is a Magic Number”, “Just a Bill”, “Do the Circulation”, “Conjunction Junction” and “Interplanet Janet”.
As the show moves through the songs, Tom realizes he is ready to teach, but before he heads to school he requests of his “friends” his personal favorite, “Interjections”.
You might have seen the original Schoolhouse Rock videos, or perhaps even eSchoolhouse Rock Live, or School House Rocks Live, Jr. but in all probability, you have never seen this rejiggered version as envisioned Directors by Larissa and Michael Petrucci. Their production has become more of a characterless musical revue, lacking in drama. In a sense, it comes off more as a frantic middle school dance recital.
Here at the Comtra Theatre, Tom is not seen on stage until the end of the show, he is just an off-stage voice. Any opportunity for interaction with his alter ego’s imaginary friends has been lost. This staging affords us no ability to see Tom’s worry and angst as his first-day teaching draws near.
The imaginary friends have been reduced from five to three and renamed Lacey (Larissa Petrucci), Myah (Myah Davis) and Nikki (Nicole Uram). There are nineteen other preteens and children who make up the rest of the cast. This quickly fills Comtra’s fifteen by fifteen foot in-the-round stage with little room for them to act or react.
Even though we can’t see Tom, there are two TVs hung in the corners that show the original Schoolhouse videos as the kids sing along. You find yourself watching them more than the performers. Unfortunately, the live action singing doesn’t sync cohesively with the videos, they usually end before the singing does. The wireless microphones were not cooperating at this performance.
The musicians led by Conductor and Keyboardist Amy Kamp with Samuel Costanza are spot on perfect. There are so many other things that aren’t, you almost don’t notice how really good the musicians are.
This production of School House Rock was a great opportunity for children gain experience performing on stage and their parents to enjoy watching them. Yes, there is nothing cuter than seeing your kids perform at their first show. For the rest of the audience, not so much.
The Schoolhouse Rock Live is reimagined at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday Evenings from now through September 16th at the Comtra Theatre in Cranberry, PA. For tickets visit https://comtratheatre.ticketleap.com