Chicago Tribune
Tuesday, May 14, 1996 By Lou Carlozo

Like it or not, our decade is awash in '70s nostalgia, with tribute albums honoring The Carpenters, John Denver and Saturday morning cartoon themes. Even disco has made a comeback.

In the midst of all this smiley-face remembrance comes "Schoolhouse Rock Live!", a musical based on the educational ABC cartoon shorts that aired from 1973 through 1985.

The live version, which opened in Chicago in 1993 and enjoyed a successful off-Broadway run, is back in town at the Victory Gardens Theater. And those who missed it last time should make it their assignment to catch "Schoolhouse Rock Live!" before it takes a summer recess in June.

The show succeeds in large part because it plays to both adults and children without pandering to either group. In that way, the show has a comic sensibility much closer to a Bullwinkle cartoon than, say, a Raffi album.

The '70s kids who sat through the original "Schoolhouse Rock" series know that it had a somewhat hokey tone. Enduring corny songs like "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly (Get Your Adverbs Here)" was a lot like eating broccoli before the long-promised dessert (more full-length cartoons).

Good news for savvy adults: "Schoolhouse Rock Live!" seizes on this truth and runs with it. In their version of "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly," the three male cast members (George Keating, Pip Lilly and Stephen Rader) don bowlers and sing the number in campy vaudeville style.

Not to be outdone, the three female players (Kirsten Diefendorf, Dori Goldman and Karen Volpe) showed off impressive harmonies and ample comedic talent on numbers like "Sufferin' Till Suffrage" and "The Great American Melting Pot."

As a whole, the cast carries the 80-minute show with youthful exuberance and energy, though two standouts should be noted. The first is Keating (also a co-writer), who captures the singsong spirit of these educational odes and amplifies it to hilarious heights.

The second is Goldman, who shows much promise as a budding comic actress. Her confused facial expressions and snarly singing tone created the hilarious effect of "I can't believe I'm singing this stuff."

That's not to say "Schoolhouse Rock Live!" is an attack. It's more of a riotous celebration; after all, how many children learned the Constitution's preamble while munching on their cereal? Indeed, a good many grownups watching the show could recite it and sing along.


©2005 Theatrebam Chicago