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Theater: Ventura County | THEATER NOTES

Musical Education

'Schoolhouse Rock' revue revives cartoon songs that teach.

May 29, 1997|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If the song titles "Conjunction Junction," "Three Is a Magic Number" and "I'm Just a Bill" resonate with you, you're probably in the generation of children raised between the decline of Capt. Kangaroo and the advent of that purple dinosaur.

An unlikely combination of advertising executives and jazz musicians (and a climate in which TV networks were being pressured to air more educational programming) resulted in the series of brief animated shorts known collectively as "Schoolhouse Rock," which ran on ABC from 1973-1985 and continue to pop up between the network's Saturday morning cartoons.

A quarter-century after its first episode aired, "Schoolhouse Rock" is enjoying a revival. Several albums of songs from the series have been released; four video compilations have sold nearly 1.5 million copies combined; a Disney subsidiary has published a book based on the shows; some of the original musicians have developed a nightclub act using the material; and a theatrical revue gathering its best-known numbers has been touring the East and Midwest.

That revue, "Schoolhouse Rock Live!," is receiving its West Coast premiere under the auspices of Comedy Tonight Productions. It plays this weekend and next at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, and moves to the Arts Council Center in Thousand Oaks on June 13.

Six young and enthusiastic singer-dancers perform 21 "Schoolhouse" songs tied together by something too flimsy to be called a story line. In addition to the above-named tunes, there are the historical-minded "The Preamble" (to the U.S. Constitution) and "Sufferin' for Suffrage"; grammar-oriented "Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla" and "Interjections!"; and so on. The lessons are set to music ranging from doo-wop to country to something sounding rather like Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."

Some dated references won't mean much to the 8-year-olds to whom "Schoolhouse Rock" was originally addressed. And nobody's going to learn anything from hearing this material once.

But the show is very lively under Rebecca Hanes' direction, with Terrie Benton, Marc Channick, Bawb, Cochrane, Megan Pryor, Katy Strote and Gabriel Vega giving it their talented all.

Kendra Valdiva is co-musical director, pianist and bandleader; and Maggie White, choreographer. Like "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," "Schoolhouse Rock Live!" will probably appeal more to parents than to their children.

* "Schoolhouse Rock Live!" continues through June 8 at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Ave. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. $9-$14. (805) 581-9940. From June 13-29, at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Ave., Thousand Oaks. Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (805) 389-3193.

*

And Now for Something Completely Different: Though he's generally acknowledged as one of the English-speaking world's greatest living playwrights, and quite accessible, local companies, even colleges, shy away from Harold Pinter. Local actress and director Toni Frisk, on the other hand, has produced two Pinter plays at the Santa Paula Theater Center: "The Lover" a while back, and 1978's "Betrayal" right now.

Frisk plays Emma, who's married to book publisher Robert Downs (Robert M. Grant) and has been having an affair with his best friend, Jerry (Jeff G. Rack). As the play opens, the affair is ancient history; as the play progresses, the action regresses. The last scene shows Jerry and Emma meeting at Robert and Emma's wedding.

Its backward structure is a parlor trick, but gives a fresh view on a developing series of relationships; the actors handle Pinter's clipped dialogue and pregnant pauses with authority and panache. Jeri Stopya appears briefly but significantly as a waitress. Relatively brief and often amusing, "Betrayal" is the strongest piece of material to be seen locally in some time, and deserves attention.

* "Betrayal" at Santa Paula Theater Center's Backstage Theater, 125 S. 7th St., Santa Paula. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m., through June 8. $10-$12.50. (805) 525-4645.

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Casting Call: An open call for the Theater 33 production of George Herman's "The Company of Wayward Saints" will be held Sunday from 3-6 p.m. and Monday from 7-10 p.m. at Ojai Art Center, 113 S. Montgomery St.

The comedy calls for six men and three women, 18 years old and up, and will run weekends from July 18-Aug. 17.

For information, call director Tom Eubanks at (805) 649-9443.

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