BWW Review: SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK LIVE! a Disappointing Opening at OCTA
Opening night for SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK LIVE! at the Olathe Civic Theatre on Friday September 11 was billed as a show full of energy, humor, music, dancing and some very valuable grammar lessons. Unfortunately, the show became more of a test of tolerance for low energy acting, singing that made audience members cringe, and choreography that was awkward and unimaginative at the best.
The musical is based on the 1970's Emmy Award-winning Saturday morning cartoons that taught grammar, multiplication tables, history, and other subjects through lively memorable songs. The original series ran from 1973 to 1986 and again infrequently from 1990 through 2001. The short cartoons began as a commercial advertising venture by David McCall. "Three is a Magical Number" was the first song recorded which tested well leading to the release of the children's record.
The Nashville Children's Theatre developed SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK LIVE! in 2013. The musical brings to life the story of Tom, a teacher nervously facing his first day of school. While watching television he is joined by characters representing facets of his personality. Through songs, these characters help him learn how to win over his students. Who can forget growing up, or at least having our kids grow up to "Conjunction Junction," "Suffering Till Suffrage," or "Just A Bill"?
Unfortunately, for the audience the production was uninspired and at times hard to hear and understand the words of the songs. The dance numbers involved the actors running around the stage to the point that they seemed breathless as they sang. For most of the show, the only projection came from the screen above the actors showing the old commercials.
Jennifer Coville returns to the Olathe Civic Theatre Stage as Dori. Joined by Kristen Altoro, in her debut at OCTA, as Dina they provide the only highlights of the show (excluding the aforementioned commercials). Both performers exuded an abundance of energy in song and dance.
Guy Gardner appears as Tom in a lackluster performance that produced little energy, with dialogue and songs that mostly seemed forced. I kept looking for a teleprompter, his dialogue sounding as if it was being read. Early in Act 1, I watched, as it appeared Gardner was observing other performers, like a dancer unsure of the moves waiting to follow their lead. Imagine my surprise when in the playbill it lists him as the choreographer.
Delano Mendoza debuted as Joe in a performance that in Act 1 seemed to be strong with good vocals. In Act 2, he appeared to lose the stamina for the constant running around the stage, causing his vocals to fall flat. Micayla Miller appears as Shulie in a performance that was difficult to listen to. Fingernails dragged across a chalkboard would not be as painful as to listen to as her vocals.
The OCTA theatre is named for the famed performer Buddy Rogers. As the production progressed, I wondered how many times he turned over in his grave. SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK LIVE! continues at the Olathe Civic Theatre Association Theatre through September 27. Photo courtesy of the Olathe Civic Theatre Association.