Schoolhouse Rock Live!

Schoolhouse Rock Live!" reproduces the revered childhood TV program onstage, and although unlikely to prove a critical favorite, the nostalgia factor should pull the target demographic. The original "Schoolhouse Rock" was a series of 40 brief animated lessons sandwiched between regular Saturday a.m. kid shows on ABC, starting in 1973. The cartoons taught arithmetic, science, grammar, history and civics via tunes by various composers, including such budding talents as Lynn Ahrens (Broadway's "Once on This Island," "Ragtime," the upcoming bigscreen cartoon "Anastasia").

With:
Cast: Ken Stegmiller, Jorge Garza, Shannon Martin, Shannon Miner, Byron Gregory, Nicol Foster.

Weekly repetition drilled these often clever ditties into a generation’s memory, yet the lack of narrative or character content makes conversion to the stage less than natural. Perhaps inevitably, weakest element in the current package is its swing at a framing device. Tom (Ken Stegmiller), nervous before his first day as an elementary-school instructor, is offered inspiration from the “Schoolhouse” ensemble that leaps from his TV. Thus 20 “classic” tele-tunes are reprised.

Though a few of the songs can stand on their own, most are jingle-style pop-rockers that rely mostly on the recognition factor. Occasional country, soul or doo-wop flavors the melodic vanilla.

Abandoning its first-act dependence on audience participation, the second act features a tap workout (“Rufus Xavier Sasparilla,” about pronouns), a Rollerblade ballet (“Figure 8”) and a prop-heavy dance (“Interplanet Janet”).

Director Scott Evan Guggenheim keeps the six-member ensemble very busy, though a couple of singers falter in their spotlights. Byron Gregory exudes the most comic savvy, Nicol Foster and Shannon Miner the best pipes.

And while it all works well enough, viewers without “Schoolhouse” memories will puzzle over why their neighbors sit (or rise and shout) in obvious thrall.

Schoolhouse Rock Live!

Opened, reviewed Oct. 18, 1997, at Alcazar Theater; 456 seats; $28 top.

Production: SAN FRANCISCO A Guggenheim Prods. presentation, in association with Theater BAM of Chicago, of a musical in two acts, with book by Scott Ferguson, George Keating, Kyle Hall, music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg, Kathy Mandry, George Newall, Tom Yohe. Original TV series created by Newall and Yohe, based on an idea by David McCall. Directed by Scott Evan Guggenheim. Choreography, Shannon Guggenheim; musical direction, Stephen Guggenheim; set, Julie Engelbrecht, Kurt Meeker.

Creative: Costumes, Engelbrecht; lighting, Chris Guptill; orchestrations, Thomas Tomasello; stage manager, Chela Jane Cadwell. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN. Songs: "Verb: That's What's Happening," "A Noun Is a Person, Place or Thing," "Three Is a Magic Number," "Mother Necessity," "Sufferin' Till Suffrage," "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here," "Unpack Your Adjectives," "I'm Just a Bill," "The Preamble," "Ready or Not, Here I Come! (By Fives)," "Do the Circulation," "Rufus Xavier Sasparilla," "Figure Eight," "A Victim of Gravity," "My Hero, Zero," "Conjunction Junction," "The Great American Melting Pot," "Elbow Room," "Interplanet Janet," "Interjections!," "The Tale of Mr. Morton."

Cast: Cast: Ken Stegmiller, Jorge Garza, Shannon Martin, Shannon Miner, Byron Gregory, Nicol Foster.

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