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Schoolhouse Rock Spans Generations at Oregon Children’s Theatre

By Sullivan Mackintosh, OCT Intern

Generational theater is alive and well at OCT. Look around at the theater and you’ll see kids, parents, and grandparents! In particular, Schoolhouse Rock Live! is the perfect generational piece. OCT is excited to introduce a whole new generation to these classic songs and stories. The original cartoon first appeared on the ABC television network in 1973, was adapted into a play in the ‘90s and is still used in classrooms today.

“Back in the ‘olden days,’ when I was a kid in the ‘70s, and there were only three or four TV channels to choose from, Saturday mornings were time to catch up on all our favorite cartoons. And in between, right before the commercials, they would play the Schoolhouse Rock! episodes,” says Aaron Levin, director of the upcoming production of Schoolhouse Rock Live! at Oregon Children’s Theatre.

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As a child of the ‘90s, I grew up hearing “Conjunction Junction” and other Schoolhouse tunes on cassette tape, and my sister (born 2000) had the whole collection on DVD. Schoolhouse Rock’s catchy-yet-educational musical shorts have certainly become a multi-generational phenomenon. I gleaned some inside information from Levin on how he and his team brought this iconic cartoon to life.

Levin was originally drawn to this show because of how important the cartoons were to him growing up. “I jumped at the opportunity to be able to bring those fond memories to the live stage,” he says. “Plus, it’s just a fast-paced trek through a bunch of fun lessons about history, math, science, and English… what a fun and easy way to learn!” He describes the songs as American classics that have held up over time because they are written so artfully.

Of course, adapting the cartoon shorts into a full-length play comes with challenges, especially when it’s as recognizable as Schoolhouse Rock! One thing that’s new in the Live! show is the addition of a plotline to weave the songs together: A new teacher is anxious about his first day of class, but rediscovers the Schoolhouse favorites to help in his preparations. Levin is also excited about the new arrangements of the songs, which include harmonies for all six cast members.

“Together as a creative team,” Levin says, “we decided to offer a nostalgic nod to the original cartoons and to the ’70s, while modernizing our production to make it accessible to the young audiences today. The audience may notice references to and images from the original cartoons, but we’ve created a fun, new, and unique journey.”

Schoolhouse Rock Live! runs from March 28-April 26 at the Winningstad Theatre (1111 SW Broadway, Portland). More information and tickets can be found at www.octc.org.

Did You Know?
Portland is home to noted jazz musician Dave Frishberg, the composer and lyricist for “I’m Just A Bill”—possibly the best-known song of the Schoolhouse canon. Check it out!