Oakcrest School Schoolhouse Rock Live!By Cappies • Mar 14th, 2014 • Category: Cappies
Seated on a church pew in Oakcrest School, a young boy with bright eyes and a large smile watched eagerly as girls ran through the audience, ducking and tackling to the playful “Ready or Not, Here I Come” that closed the first act of Schoolhouse Rock Live! His sister, bouncing and flapping her hands excitedly, was not the only one mirroring his joy. Oakcrest’s all-girl production entertained audience members of all ages with well-oiled musical numbers, a cohesive ensemble of vibrant characters, and lots of fun surprises.
Adapted to the stage in 1996, Schoolhouse Rock Live! is only slightly older than most of the actors, but the animated, educational TV hit series “Schoolhouse Rock” started in 1972. Since then, songs like “Conjunction Junction” and “Just a Bill” have become ingrained in American childhoods, including that of the musical’s protagonist, Sandy, who turns on the TV to calm her nerves before her first day of teaching. Suddenly, the Schoolhouse Rock characters come to life, personifying “sides” of Sandy’s personality, and attempting to reassure her.
With facial expressions that communicated well with the audience and an easy stage-presence, Ann Esmond as Sandy warmly guided the audience along the plotline that ties the musical together. Other standouts included Marianne Khatter, who delivered a hip-snapping, muscle-flexing homage to Rosie the Riveter in “Sufferin’ Till Suffrage” in which she showcased her raspy voice and sassy stage presence. Madeleine Lucas sported energy and strong singing as she cartwheeled through “A Victim of Gravity,” and “Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla” — a number made successful by hilarious reenactments and a well-orchestrated gag in which Lucas good-naturedly dragged a pre-teen boy in a red sweatshirt up on stage. (The boy was returned to the audience smiling embarrassedly.)
The true strength of the production, however, came from the vibrant unity of the ensemble. Although the energy level wavered and the choreography was simple, the actors committed whole-heartedly to their characters and their dancing was crisp and synchronized. From beginning to end, actors like Sophia Buono were fully engaged in the imminent scene while still maintaining the child-like enthusiasm of their character.
Well-balanced sound enhanced the ensemble effect. Although the ensemble’s children’s-choir-like quality did not fit the style of every song, their harmonies were clear and solid. Furthermore, it was often difficult to distinguish the actors’ words and the band was sometimes overpowering, but sound coordinator Alejandra Aguilar successfully kept track of, and balanced, over 20 wireless microphones — difficult, especially in an acoustically awkward space.
Even the set was designed to thematically unite the ensemble. The posters and quotes hanging in Sandy’s apartment corresponded to the different sides of her personality as personified by the actors. The set served as a permanent backdrop, but actors could be found all over the theatre, sitting among the audience, crawling under church pews, or even rollerblading through the aisles.
Many innovative props helped the space come to life, and the audience to visualize the concepts of the songs. Jackets that spelled out “NOUNS,” dozens of photos of movie stars and other “heroes” with the number 0 pasted over their faces, interactive parts of words, giant signs, and many other props entered and exited the stage, leaving the audience expecting surprises.
That sense of expectation and surprise is how Oakcrest School’s production of Schoolhouse Rock Live! entertained everyone, even those who learned to count by fives or identify a verb long ago. With lots of joy and a solid ensemble, Oakcrest’s production brought out the child in everyone.
by Eliza Malakoff of TC Williams
Photos by Laura Kuah of Laurentina Photography
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