The Coterie mixes big laughs with a lesson plan in ‘Schoolhouse Rock Live!’
04/13/2014 7:13 PM
04/13/2014 7:13 PM
When you put Ron Megee together with Missy Koonce, wild and crazy things happen. The two Late Night Theatre veterans have their way with the current production of “Schoolhouse Rock Live!” at the Coterie theater. It’s tough to say which of them is responsible for the specific moments of zaniness that run through this show. Suffice to say that Megee, who directed, and Koonce, who choreographed, have given theatergoers an antic, comic ride. Children’s theater is theoretically educational, but sometimes artistic vision leads directors and playwrights into preachy morality tales and solemn allegories. This show, however, is literally educational and feels like a breath of fresh air. Based on the long-running animated TV series, the show stitches together a collection of songs that cleverly impart lessons about verbs, nouns, adjectives, predicates and conjunctions, as well as math, physical science and civics. Songwriters are not credited in the Coterie program, but according to Music Theatre International, which licenses the show, the music and lyrics were created by a committee that includes Lynn Ahrens, Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg, Kathy Mandry, George Newall and Tom Yohe. The original book, all about a nervous teacher on his first day of class, has more or less been tossed by Megee and company. In its place is a wacky tale about a teacher who leads his students through space to the Planet of Pop Culture. Martin Buchanan plays the teacher with his customary manic energy and precision, while prodigiously talented young actors play the students — Shelby Floyd as Shulie, Seth M. Jones as Tom, Emily Shackelford as Dori and Francisco Javier Villegas as George. Jones and Villegas are skilled comic actors. So are Floyd and Shackelford, who also happen to be two of the best singers in local theater. The numbers are performed live to prerecorded backing tracks. The actors are equipped with wireless microphones, but now and then the sound balance makes it tough to understand all the lyrics. That’s basically a reflection of the Coterie’s challenging acoustics. The design team clearly had a lot of fun with this show. Sarah White’s set and Georgianna Londre Buchanan’s costumes are colorful and full of visual jokes. There’s also some clever puppetry, presumably the work of resident prop designer Mary Nichols. The foam puppet manipulated and voiced by Jones in “Just a Bill” is hilarious. I can’t remember ever seeing a talking piece of legislation before.