Director Jewels: Schoolhouse Rock Live! at the Kansas City Coterie Theatre

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Schoolhouse Rock Live! at the Kansas City Coterie Theatre

Disclosure: I received press passes to attend this production at The Coterie Theatre. I received no other compensation and all views expressed are my own.

Who remembers Saturday morning cartoons? There was something magical, wasn't there, about waking up and crawling up on the couch under a blanket while watching stories come to life right on your screen. Now that I'm a parent, I especially understand why the Saturday morning cartoon ritual is real: because moms and dads need sleep!

The names of the channels I used to watch have escaped me, but I do know that my brother and I looked forward to the times when a Schoolhouse Rock! episode would play. Schoolhouse Rock! is an Emmy-award winning educational animated series and if you were a kid anytime between the '70's-'90s, chances are you watched it, too!

The Coterie Theatre - at Kansas City's Crown Center - is bringing the schoolhouse to life now through May 18. I was surprised the first time I heard that Schoolhouse Rock! had been turned into a musical. I didn't understand how there could possibly be a correlating storyline to bring all the songs together, but the Coterie's version is new and inventive - and seamless.

(Foreground, Left to right): Emily Shackelford (as Dori), Francisco Javier Villegas (as George)
& Shelby Floyd (as Shulie). (Background): Seth M. Jones (as Tom) in Schoolhouse Rock Live!
Photo by J. Robert Schraeder and courtesy of The Coterie Theatre.

The story is simple: Mr. E, a schoolteacher in the not-too-distant future, takes his class on a field trip around the galaxy, where they land on a deserted planet that is filled with discarded remnants of 20th Century Pop Culture. The Schoolhouse songs are first introduced via an "ancient" cassette tape and player. Since Schoolhouse is part of 20th Century Pop Culture, it made perfect sense for the tape to be there - along with all the other completely random set pieces and props. It must have been fun to dress this set!

We were off to a rollicking start with Verb: That's What's Happening. The kids in the audience were already enthralled by the end of this number that features superhero capes made out of classic cartoon bed sheets like The Little Mermaid, Thomas, and the Powerpuff Girls.

A Noun is a Person, Place Or Thing is one of the catchiest Schoolhouse tunes, and it did not disappoint. I especially enjoyed the jukebox scene and the use of GLEE party goods as a prop to bring the young audience members up to speed, since the song mentions legends like The Beatles and The Monkees, who unfortunately may not be known to kids these days. The "snow" on the ferry was cute, too.

Three Is A Magic Number, Unpack Your Adjectives, and The Tale Of Mr. Morton are all entertaining numbers that feature fantastic design as well. The beauty of this production is that there is always somewhere new for kids to look - the show is definitely not likely to lose their attention. Standout bits from these songs are the different signs used for counting by 3's in Three and the spinning word umbrellas in Adjectives. Go see the show - you'll see what I mean and you'll love all the creativity.

(Left to right): Francisco Javier Villegas (as George) & Seth M. Jones (as Tom) in
Schoolhouse Rock Live!
Photo by J. Robert Schraeder and courtesy of The Coterie Theatre.

The historical and government section of the show was up next, and my husband and I both agreed it was our favorite part! We loved Bill - a custom puppet who was voiced perfectly by Seth M. Jones. Just A Bill is perhaps the most well-known Schoolhouse Rock! number, and this production gave the piece the credit it deserves. From the costume choices (did you know that the kid in the original video wears a red-stripe shirt similar to the one featured here on Francisco Javier Villegas) to the aforementioned puppet, to the lawmakers and the adorable additional bills brought to life by the rest of the cast, it was just a lovely piece overall. I didn't want it to end.

(Front row, Left to right): Shelby Floyd (as Shulie), Emily Shackelford (as Dori)
& Francisco Javier Villegas (as George). (Back row): Seth M. Jones (as Tom) in
Schoolhouse Rock Live! Photo by J. Robert Schraeder and courtesy of The Coterie Theatre.

The follow-up to Bill was The Preamble, which was probably our favorite number overall. The fabric hats were simple, but set the tone perfectly. The magnetic flag was inventive and the Hannah Montana guitar was hilarious. And the Les Mis reference in the choreography had me rolling.

Sufferin' Till Suffrage, a song about the right to vote, had great vocals from Shelby Floyd - loved the riffing!

(Front row, Left to right): Martin Buchanan (as Mr. E.), Emily Shackelford (as Dori) &
Seth M. Jones (as Tom). (Back row): Shelby Floyd (as Shulie) & Francisco Javier Villegas
(as George) in Schoolhouse Rock Live!
Photo by J. Robert Schraeder and courtesy of The Coterie Theatre.

Everyone in the cast proved that they are even more than triple threats when they strapped on roller skates and headed around the stage for Ready or Not, Here I Come. The audience was enthralled with the black light in Do The Circulation (even my husband was pointing out how cool his shoes looked, so you can imagine what the kids thought).

Conjunction Junction, another very popular TV episode, was brought to life with excellence and the tone of the song did a great job to set the pace for the show to wind down. The box cars were the perfect set pieces and the enthusiasm of the cast had the audience (myself included) singing along.

A Victim of Gravity was designed as a throwback to the king of pop himself, and was a fun number even in spite of some technical complications that were handled quickly and professionally. I loved the bubble-wrap poodle skirts.

Shelby Floyd (as Shulie) in Schoolhouse Rock Live!
Photo by J. Robert Schraeder and courtesy of The Coterie Theatre.

Interplanet Janet took me back to my show choir days, when I sang this song during a Schoolhouse production. This number had the cast utilizing the full auditorium and was fun all around. The reference to Pluto made us laugh.

The final number, Interjections!, was a good upbeat closing number. I couldn't believe how quickly the time flew by while we were lost in outer space on the planet of pop culture.

Overall, it was a stellar production that we thoroughly enjoyed. The familiar music paired with the solid cast delivers a high level of entertainment and will continue delighting Kansas City audiences through May 18! Director Ron Megee and the rest of the Coterie staff have done a brilliant job putting together this all-around delight. You can find showtimes at The Coterie online. Make sure you note the special Saturday night sing-along edition - free bowl of cereal included!

Thanks to the Coterie Theatre for providing my tickets to the show. I received no other compensation and all views expressed are my own. For more information, you can read my Disclosure Policy.

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