We theatergoers live, apparently, in the age of rock-and-roll government, and New York kids’ theater troupe Theaterworks USA’s “We the People: America Rocks!” now does for Social Studies what Public Theater hit “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” did for American History 101. The hourlong tuner boasts an impressive complement of young composers and lyricists (notably Kevin del Aguila, lyricist on Theaterworks’ killer “Click, Clack, Moo,” and Joe Iconis) and some fine perfs, especially Abe Goldfarb’s friendly goofball take on Benjamin Franklin.
Given its subtitle, it’s pretty easy to guess where “We the People” falls on the subversion spectrum. The show, which follows the founding fathers’ attempts to inspire a disillusioned high schooler (a game Badia Farha), is long on civic duty and short on tough questions, but it’s sort of nice to see something that presents the U.S. in a positive light and suggests that its citizens work to make it even better. Perhaps there’s a great kids’ musical out there somewhere about Thomas Jefferson’s illegitimate children, but these days it’s just a relief to get fervent patriotism that’s not fuelled by rage.
Perfs are good all around, with Goldfarb giving off a genial mad scientist vibe during the show’s more ridiculous numbers (of which there are several). Tuner frequently recalls old eps of “Schoolhouse Rock,” with some fun twists like “We In the House,” a Beastie Boys tribute about the legislative branch.
Unexpectedly, the bits that play best are the straightforward civics lessons, notably a lengthy explanation of checks and balances featuring three politicians in professional wrestling outfits… who are fighting with a cartoonishly huge gavel, law book, and veto stamp over a bill that would ban sleeveless shirts. Turns out it’s unconstitutional because of the right to bare arms.
Ultimately, a good time is had by all, and Iconis, whose book for the brief (hour-long) proceedings is pretty much a string of teen-talk jokes, distinguishes himself among his peers by writing a song with a radio-ready hook in it.
The only potential problem here is that it’s not clear who “We the People” is supposed to be for. It’s too talky for tiny tots and not knowing enough for older teens, so it lives in a middle-school aged twilight zone — as opposed to some of the company’s other shows, like “Click, Clack, Moo,” which nailed both kid and adult demos.
Gordon Greenberg’s direction is pleasingly solid and none of the actors ever look embarrassed, despite ample opportunity. Adam Koch’s set design is a little pre-fab looking, but Lora LaVon’s hipster costumes are one of the high points of the whole shebang.