BROWNSTOWN — An Emmy Award-winning 1970s Saturday morning cartoon series is coming to the stage at Royal Off-the-Square Theatre in Brownstown.
“Schoolhouse Rock!” taught history, grammar, math and more through clever, tuneful songs.
Now, it’s lighting up stages everywhere, including here in Jackson County, as “Schoolhouse Rock Live!”
The show follows Tom, a nerve-wracked schoolteacher who is nervous about his first day of teaching. He tries to relax by watching television when various characters representing facets of his personality emerge from the set and show him how to win his students over with imagination and music.
That’s done through songs like “Just a Bill,” “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly” and “Conjunction Junction.”
Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre is presenting the show at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $9. Friday’s show is sold out online, and a limited number of tickets remain for Sunday.
“I did this show years back when I was in Evansville and loved the show,” Director Paul Keller said. “I fell in love with it, and it’s not typically something that you would normally listen to, but I grew up listening to ‘Just a Bill’ and all of those great ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ songs, so I wanted to share that love that I had and that great experience I had with this theater.”
Originally, Jackson County Community Theatre was going to do the show as its annual dinner theater show in 2022, but the board went with another show.
“I was super disappointed because I loved this show and I wanted to do it,” Keller said. “Finally, I was like, ‘You know what? We already have the rights. Let’s try it as a JCYAT show.’”
There are 36 students involved in the production, including 27 onstage.
“These kids are phenomenal,” Keller said. “It’s a massive production, but what’s cool is kids are running tech, kids are running the backstage, kids are doing props, kids are doing costumes. We have adults supervising, but kids do the rest. This is the first not only JCYAT musical but also the first one entirely run by kids, which I think is incredible.”
The show also features a live band, including Mason Williams on drums and Paul Scheiderer, director of music for Immanuel Lutheran Church, on piano.
“For one, they get to learn. They are literally learning while they are singing the songs. They are learning pronouns and adverbs and things like that,” Keller said of the takeaways for the kids.
“But the main thing is that they are coming together as a cast and really interacting as a group,” he said. “The youth shows have always been a place where those kids who may not fit in in other places or they are a little extra or they are a little shy or they are something else, they can come into this theater and they can be themselves. What I want them to take away from it is simply a love for the arts and then also that family connection you get from a show.”
As a bonus to the stage shows, some of the cast members are presenting a showcase at 2 p.m. today at Immanuel Lutheran School in Seymour.
“We have a lot of Immanuel students in the show, and the principal asked if we would do a showcase to show everybody at the school,” Keller said. “We’re pulling in Immanuel alumni, we have some homeschool kids that are able to come and we’re going to do some of the stuff from the show. I thought that was pretty neat that they invited us.”
Keller said it will be good to show other students at the school what theater is all about.
“We’re hoping to get kids there, too, that they want to come to a show and then get their interest piqued in theater and hopefully share the same family experience that we have in all of our shows,” he said.
One of the Immanuel students in the show is Samuel Dyer. The 14-year-old is playing the lead role of Tom.
“He is a nervous wreck of a teacher,” he said. “It’s his first time, he has never done this before and so he needs all of the help he can get, so when all of these characters come out and help him out, he really appreciates it.”
Going into auditions, Dyer said he didn’t know who any of the characters were, but he knew what “Schoolhouse Rock!” was and wanted to be part of it.
“I grew up on ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ My school tended to show the videos a lot, so when I heard that that’s what this was, I got super excited because I was like, ‘I know this and I want this,’” he said.
Getting the lead role made it all the better.
“When (Keller) told me that I got the lead role, that was so much more than I thought I was going to get, and I was ecstatic about it,” Dyer said.
He looks forward to performing the songs that are part of the theater version of “Schoolhouse Rock!”
“With all of the ones that they have picked, they are some of the obvious ones, and the dialogue in between that ties them together is just really amazing,” he said.
Jovie Zitting, 15, has a solo singing about adjectives, and she said being part of the show is really fun and it’s nostalgic for people who grew up on “Schoolhouse Rock!”
Sophie Ruddick, 13, performs “Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla,” which is about pronouns.
Both girls, who live in Jennings County, said they appreciate the opportunity to be in this show and on the theater stage as youth.
“I want to do all of the musical opportunities and theater because I want to be an actress when I grow up, and I enjoy doing theater,” Zitting said.
“I really enjoy theater, as well,” Ruddick said. “I love having opportunities for musicals, and I just saw this as a good opportunity for more experience with theater. I really enjoy entertaining people.”
Corrina Corcoran, 14, has a solo related to history, “Sufferin’ Till Suffrage.” It details a brief history of late 19th and early 20th century women’s rights and the early feminist leaders who crusaded for the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women across the country the right to vote in all elections.
“I really like how the story and songs come into play with each lesson and how it just folds together,” the St. Ambrose Catholic School eighth-grader said.