‘Schoolhouse Rock’ gets young feet moving

Jan. 19, 2011

Text and photos by Ted Regencia

SKOKIE, Ill — There’s more to a child’s life than sitting 0n a couch and playing Nintendo.

As a former schoolteacher, Jennie Meyer gives her seal of approval to the musical hit Schoolhouse Rock for its fun and effective way of teaching pre-school children basic math, science, grammar and even social studies.

So last Tuesday, Meyer and her 3-year-old daughter, Adelina, attended a packed performance at the Skokie Public Library’s Petty Auditorium.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Meyer said. “It was a flashback for me. I actually was a teacher and used some of these songs when I was teaching. So it was fun to hear and see them live.”

It was the Adelina’s first time to see the show, and Meyer said the experience “was interesting” for her daughter. “She did enjoy it, she absolutely did,” the mom added.

For the entire show, actors Christopher Walsh, Danny Taylor, Angie Wendt and Michelle Weissgerber kept the visibly animated children on their toes with catchy tunes such as “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just A Bill.” The first song is a lesson in grammar while the latter is a lesson in how a bill is passed in Congress.

Parents watched with excitement as their child joined the performers onstage. In “Do The Circulation,” the children were told how to stay active and “keep their blood moving” by doing basic body movements. Another set called “A Victim of Gravity” introduces them to physics.

Scott Ferguson, director and creator at Theatrebam Chicago, said honesty is the most effective formula in connecting with the children. He has been running the show since 1993.

“It’s not much of a challenge as long as you are really honest,” he said. “Kids are the most truthful audience. If they don’t like it, they’ll let you know.”

Because of the popularity of the original TV series, the stage version also “lives on and on,” Ferguson added.

The original TV version on ABC was created by an advertising executive who noticed that his son could easily remember songs on the radio, but could not memorize his multiplication tables. So he combined animation, music and the education information to help his child. And it worked.

The show expanded to include math, science, grammar and even a little bit of history and politics. The cartoon shorts received several Emmy awards during their run that started in the 1970s.

Inspired by the show, Ferguson and a group of graduates from Northwestern and De Paul universities decided to create an adaption.

Since 1993, Theatrebam Chicago has been touring the U.S. amid critical and popular success. A New York version of the show was also produced.

Recalling a newspaper review, Ferguson said, “The great thing about [the show] is that you can bring your 6-year-old niece and your 80-year-old grandmother, and the three of you will be arguing about who like it most.”

Second City alumna Weissgerber has been in the show for seven years. “It’s a fun thing to do,” she said. “You can’t give it up.”

Schoolhouse Rock returns to Skokie on April 10, when it will take the stage at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts.

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