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To the 'Schoolhouse' to Study Education's Rockin' Role

July 29, 1999|CORINNE FLOCKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Conjunction Junction, what's your function?

That's the Zen-like musical question posed by "Schoolhouse Rock" for more than 25 years, first via a long-running series of quirky animated shorts tucked into ABC-TV's Saturday morning lineup, and more recently through a nostalgia-driven wave of CDs, videos and assorted merchandise.

Now there's "Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr.," a bite-size musical incorporating "Conjunction Junction," "Three Is a Magic Number" and other favorites, at the Outdoor Children's Theatre in Mission Viejo in Orange County through Sunday.

It's ostensibly aimed at youngsters 3 and older, but this 12-tune revue, directed by Joe Lauderdale, seemed to strike a more resonant chord with the adults at the recent opening. Grown-up heads repeatedly bobbed in recognition as the nimble, six-person cast danced and crooned its way through such tunes as "Just a Bill" and "The Preamble."

A group of 20-something moms practically bounced their preschoolers off their knees as they kept time to "Interjections," a rollicking lesson in the use of exclamations.

"Schoolhouse Rock" was born in the early 1970s when advertising exec David McCall was mystified by his young son's inability to memorize multiplication tables when he could recite one rock song after another.

McCall tapped jazz musician Bob Dorough to put the two together, paving the way for a collection of catchy rock-, jazz- and blues-inspired tunes that put snap, crackle and pop in otherwise dry facts. Many fans swear they wouldn't have passed that big U.S. Constitution test if the "Schoolhouse Rock" version of "The Preamble" hadn't been running through their heads.

Played out against Wally Huntoon's vivid and versatile set, "Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr." is short on story line but long on hummability.

It's the first day of school for new teacher Tom (Collin Rand), and he attempts to soothe his jitters by watching a little TV.

Surprise, surprise, "Schoolhouse Rock" is on, and before you can say "Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla," Tom is reliving his favorite "Schoolhouse Rock" tunes with new friends.

In the process, he learns how to engage young minds by linking stories and fun to the three Rs, not to mention grammar, history and science.

Snappy dance numbers, visual aids in the form of large placards and a cartoonish school bus prop, and Lauderdale's high-energy blocking drive the lessons home with color, humor and movement. We'd do well to remember the closing shot the players deliver to Tom: "You learn something new every day. Look out for it."

BE THERE

"Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr." Outdoor Children's Theatre, Saddleback College, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. today-Sunday. $6. (949) 582-4656.

Many fans swear they wouldn't have passed that big U.S. Constitution test if the "Schoolhouse Rock" version of "The Preamble" hadn't been running through their heads.

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