Monday, March 30, 2015

School House Rock!—Oregon Children’s Theatre—Downtown Portland

“The Pen is Mightier…”

This musical is based on the old TV children’s series and adapted for the stage by Scott Ferguson, George Keating and Kyle Hall and music and lyrics by the creators of the series, George Newall and Yohe, et. al.  It is directed by Aaron Levin, musical direction by Darcy White and choreography by Ashlee Waldbauer and is playing at the Winningstad Theatre at 1111 SW Broadway through April 26th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

Perhaps you remember the old children’s TV series that was on Saturday mornings and, as I remember, after school on weekdays.  It was a rival for the King of children’s TV, Sesame Street, and, quite honestly, I felt just as good in its own way.  It taught kids the meaning and importance of words…nouns pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs, conjunctions, etc.

It was presented in all animated fashion with clever music and lyrics and even went into teaching us things about the Constitution, Electricity, how Congress works (or, at least, is suppose to), the Universe, women’s rights, et. al. with an array of historical figures and events.  It was a very clever show and much of it is retained in this stage version, which is almost all music and songs.

There is no real story.  It begins with a novice teacher, Tom (Bobby Ryan), who is nervous about his first day of teaching elementary school.  But various parts of his psyche come to the rescue and he is transported into the Schoolhouse Rock format.  His “saviors” are an ensemble of characters, Dina (Kitty Fuller), George (Jordan Palmer), Dori (Lauren Steele), Joe (Martin Tebo) and Shulie (Ashlee Waldbauer).

I especially like Steele’s rendition of the song about nouns; Palmer’s trilling of “Just a Bill;” Tebo and his tongue-twisting, “Rufus…” number; Waldbauer and her star-bound, “Interplanet Janet;” Fuller and her inventive Interjections song; and Ryan and his story of lonely Mr. Morton.  All super talented in this fast-paced, energy-bound, roller-coaster ride through American culture.

The musicians are equally good, with Darcy White, always in top form as the director and keyboardist (with Triangle’s excellent composer/musician, Jon Quesenberry, on keyboards during the week.  Also on Percussion, Sam Foulger and Bass, Fletcher Nemeth.  Waldbauer keeps the dancing simple yet expressive for the numbers.

And Levin, the stage director, has assembled a truly talented group of individuals and keeps the show physically interesting.  Many of the young ones in the audiences were joining in on the musical numbers, thus being a not only entertaining but educational as well.  Also credit must go to Scenic Designer, Tal Sanders, for some very stimulating visuals, as well as some easily adaptable set and prop pieces.

All in all, a worthwhile show, which I recommend.  But, be warned, your children just might learn something as well.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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