If you haven’t sung along to cheesy animations of “Conjunction Junction” or “I’m Just a Bill” at least once in your elementary school life, then the education system has failed you. Those cheesy 1970s songs that had been drilled into every young child’s head have been tucked neatly in the back of my mind and not thought about for many years. However, sitting in the audience of the Indiana Theatre on July 9, all the memories began to flood out and I felt like putting my hair in pigtails and bouncing around like a third grader all over again.
School House Rock Live! contains 21 classic songs jam packed into an hour and a half musical (which I discovered was an appropriate length; much after that would quite frankly get annoying). At first, I was a bit skeptical going into the theatre. How could a small group of college kids put all these songs together? I didn’t really think there would be much of a plot at all, more of just a string of random melodies for a trip down memory lane. Boy, was I wrong.
The play follows the morning of Mr. Tom Singer’s (played by Chad Singer) first day of teaching an elementary class, when his “ideas” (5 other characters each dressed in a costume to represent a school subject) pay him a visit to help him. There wasn’t much dialogue, but just enough to transition from one song to another. This impressed me, seeing how vastly different the songs were: from rules about multiplying by three to catchy tunes quoting the preamble. There were various ways that the mood was set in a song that weren’t extravagant; the small theatre of only 50 seats really couldn’t accommodate drastic set changes or massive props anyways. Smaller props and costume add-ons were incorporated, such as hats and vests, as well as various lighting techniques to set the tone of the song.
Being an actress, I know that plenty of my theatre friends would try to avoid performing in a small theatre. Not many people will come, it’s too crowded, the shows are usually on a smaller scale, yadda, yadda, yadda. I, on the other hand, completely disagree. Seeing this show in such a small theatre made it so much more intimate. I made eye contact frequently with many of the 6 cast members, which has never happened to me before (and trust me, I’ve been to many shows in the past) and it made me feel special, like the actors appreciated the fact that I had attended their show. Having the production in such a small space also made the play extremely interactive. Before going into the theatre, audience members were asked to color in bubble letters of an adjective that the cast could collect in the middle of the song “Adjectives” and I thought that was a very cute idea. Cast members would also put dunce caps and top hats on audience members, point at them, and even pull them up on stage.
Now, as I previously stated, I’ve attended probably over a hundred shows in my lifetime. Never once had I been yanked up onto a stage by a cast member teaching me a dance number in the middle of a song. As I swung around jazz squares and swiveled my hips while attentively watching my very nice mentor, I heard the hum of the song, “Circulation”. I hopped around the stage alongside the other guest dancers (all very young girls and one old lady), unable to contain my laughter while my best friend who had kindly volunteered me guffawed with tears in her eyes in the audience. After the song had ended, I returned to my seat, thoroughly embarrassed, yet amused. Pulling up audience members in the middle of a performance was so unheard of, so absolutely insane, and so surprising that it made this musical especially stand out.
This is a show I would definitely recommend, but to the right audience. I didn’t just sit back in my chair and enjoy the actors’ performances; I observed the spectators as well. School House Rock was designed for kids learning the basics of grammar, multiplication, and simple history, so that’s primarily who was sitting in the audience. Their faces were always joyful and filled with a toothy smile. Obviously, young children couldn’t come alone, so they came with parents and grandparents. The older grandparents seemed to enjoy it just as much as their little kids; they laughed, they clapped, and they even knew some of the words. Parents, on the other hand, didn’t seem to enjoy it as much. One mother in particular looked very infuriated to be there, probably worn out from hearing the same catchy songs over and over blaring from YouTube at home. I would say the age range that this play is sure to please are on the opposite ends of the spectrum.
Beautiful melodies, cheesy acting (while was fitting for this particular musical), strong singing, and classic songs all added up to be an entertaining hour of my life. The last thing I wrote in my reporter’s notebook before I left the theatre was that, “this was definitely not the most well-written, eloquent, powerful and moving show in existence, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had sitting in an audience”.