Schoolhouse Rock Live! — which will be performed Oct. 17-Nov. 2 in Raleigh Little Theatre's Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre as part of the award-winning community theater's Family Series — is a sprightly 1993 musical adaptation of the popular 1973-1985 children's television cartoon series. RLT youth education director Carmen-maria Mandley (Jack and the Beanstalk, Henry V, and The Crucible), who fondly remembers watching Schoolhouse Rock on Saturday mornings, will stage Schoolhouse Rock Live!
Conceived by advertising executive David McCall, when he realized that his young son could remember the words to radio advertising jingles better than the facts of his homework assignments, Schoolhouse Rock was developed into a Saturday-morning cartoon series for ABC-TV by George Newell and Tom Yohe. Many former fans of Schoolhouse Rock can still sing "Conjunction Junction," "Just a Bill," or the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
"I learned all about everything from this show," says Mandley. "It was one of my favorites."
Like most plays in RLT's Family Series, Mandley says, "... [T]his play can be used either as entertainment OR as a teaching tool. I wanted to direct it for a few reasons. First, it was one of my favorite shows as a child; and, second, because of the timelessness of the piece, the multigenerational appeal, and the inherent love people have for the music."
Tony® Award-winning Broadway composer and lyricist Lynn Ahrens (Once on This Island, Seussical the Musical, and Ragtime), wrote songs for Schoolhouse Rock early in her career. She was one of the prime movers behind the creation of the live stage version of this classic animated series. Theatre BAM's world-premiere production of Schoolhouse Rock Live! debuted in August 26, 1993, in Chicago and ran for two years.
The stage show features a book by Scott Ferguson, Kyle Hall, and George Keating and music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg, Kathy Mandry, George Newall, and Tom Yohe.
When the curtain rises, Mandley says, "Tom (Bryan Rider) is a schoolteacher about to head into a grueling first day in the classroom. Out of nowhere, voices from his brain appear to him as people — Joe (Dustin Thomas), Dina ( Tiffany Ivy), Dori (Linnea Emigh), Shulie (Kate Bowra), and George (Patrick Clanton) — and seemingly, through the course of the play, ease his apprehension about teaching and reinstall the hope in him that teaching can be wildly fun, and learning a blast."
Like any musical, Schoolhouse Rock Live! presents special challenges to director Carmen-maria Mandley and her production team, which includes associate director Kathleen Rudolph, choreographer Jess Pillmore, musical director Mary Kathryn Walston, set designer Roger Bridges, lighting designer Rick Young, costume designer Sue Brace, props designer Betsy Bates, and sign-language consultant Hilary Franklin.
"The challenges are mostly stamina-based," claims Mandley. "The show is incredibly physical. We have to keep water bottles on the set. We also have an enormity of props, some of which are too big to be kept in our small backstage area."
Mandley adds, "Some creative finagling has had to happen. All in all, it is a really ferociously fun show to be working on, and I couldn't have asked for a better cast. We have a wide span of generations in the team, some that are in our education programs, some that have graduated from our program, and some that are completely new."
Mandley says, "The set consists of things you would find in a really fun elementary-school classroom — chalkboards, balls, jump ropes, cubbies, hula hoops, etc. Every song comes from the world of the classroom.
"The lighting vacillates between a regular classroom and whatever genre the song calls for — dance hall, dream, rock concert, museum, you name it," Mandley notes. She adds that the show's costumes are "Simple, simple, simple. There is a LOT of movement in this show and the costumes are simple to allow for that — t-shirts and cargo pants."
Raleigh Little Theatre presents Schoolhouse Rock Live! Friday, Oct. 17 and 24, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 18, 19, 25, and 26 and Nov. 1, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Thursday, Oct. 30, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 2, at 2 p.m. in RLT's Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $11 ($7 students). 919/821-3111 and http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/tickets.htm [inactive 7/04]. RLT: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/school.htm [inactive 6/04]. Schoolhouse Rock: http://disney.go.com/disneyvideos/preschool/schoolhouserock/index.html. NOTE: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all performances. Schoolhouse Rock Live!: http://www.capitolint.com/school.htm.