'Rock' Knocks Your Socks Off

Friday September 29, 06
by David Cuthbert, Times-Picayune Lagniappe

'Rock' knocks your socks off

Friday, September 29, 2006

By David Cuthbert / The Times-Picayune

Theater writer

New Orleans has a tradition of professional-quality children's theater going back decades. But none has quite the splash and flash of what producer-director Brandt Blocker manages to get onstage, from energetic singer-dancer-actors whose every word and lyric is understandable to production values that, if not Broadway, are at least Broadway and St. Charles.

"Schoolhouse Rock Live!" is a much-produced property on local stages, yet Blocker and Company make it seem newly minted in their slick staging, which concludes its short run this weekend at the Contemporary Arts Center. This is the show based on the catchy 1970s cartoon jingles from ABC that taught language, math, history, science and social studies basics in easy-to-remember form, from pop-rock to doo-wop to rhythm and blues.

Blocker's direction and Casey Leigh Thompson's choreography constitute showmanship-on-parade in 20 musical numbers, the rainbow-hued costumes endlessly accessorized, David Raphel's set a kids' book come to colorful life. Everywhere you turn there is something fun to see and hear: rock concert lighting, animation, stage smoke and bubbles.

The human component could not be bettered. Jimmy Murphy is the teacher with kids in his head who jump out of his TV to remind him how much fun "Schoolhouse Rock" was.

Murphy, Mat Grau and Lindsey Price are experienced young adults whose inner child has no trouble bubbling to the surface. Vibrant teens Alexis Ann Bruza and Jennifer Marks are both solid, expressive singers. And then there's Ethan Anderson, a mega-watt 15-year-old talent whose exuberance cannot be contained. He gets several numbers that would tax performers twice his age but which he sails through: "Ready or Not, Here I Come," a lickety-split multiples-of-five game and "Rufus Xavier Sarsparilla," a tongue-twisting Danny Kaye-type number.

I actually heard a tyke exiting this show ask plaintively, "When do they do it again?"