Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Rock the Presidents
Childsplay
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Pippin and The Merchant of Venice


Rock the Presidents is a fun and informative musical revue by Dwayne Hartford and Sarah Roberts that effectively tackles the topic of the men who have served as the president of the United States. It makes for a modern day version of "Schoolhouse Rock," the musical TV show from the 1970s that taught youngsters subjects ranging from vocabulary to math and economics using songs, as it both teaches and entertains at the same time with a fun musical score. After premiering in 2012, this original Childsplay production is back for the third time with a talented trio of performers who keep the material fresh and fun.

The show is led by three time-traveling Secret Service agents as it salutes the most famous of the presidents, but also focuses on some of the mostly forgotten ones and tackles other subjects including the first ladies and the pets of the White House. While the show mentions every U.S. president, it obviously can't focus in depth on each of the 43 men who have served in that position in the 90-minute length. It does provide plenty of interesting facts and trivia as well as some in-depth analysis on the most memorable presidents. It also presents the material in a non-partisan way with a large sense of importance for this most important job.

The score features memorable melodies with Roberts' music that includes rock, pop, and a bit of country and folk. While Hartford's lyrics are whimsical, his book has a somewhat loose structure which makes the journey a bit meandering, and some jokes that aren't that funny. However, while the format of the show may be scattered, the range of material is interesting and intriguing. The fun format also features one song that is presented as a live action video game and some segments that allow for audience participation which helps test their knowledge on these famous men.

The exceptional cast of three—Jacqui Castillo, Devon Nickel, and Alan Koutakoun—are used continually throughout the 90-minute show. They each get several solo moments to show off their vocal skills and they provide plenty of superb background harmonies. The combination of the talented cast with Anthony Runfola's fun direction and the always changing and inventive choreography by Molly Lajoie keeps the show upbeat and entertaining with energy levels that never drop.

Limitrophe Films has created the excellent projection design for this production which provides a neverending stream of photo, video and graphic designs that complement and add to the material in the lyrics. The combination of Mark 4Man's stellar musical direction with Holly Windingstad's simple but effective set, the colorful and hip costumes by D. Daniel Hollingshead, Tim Monson's powerful lighting, and Christopher Neumeyer's clear sound design make this show explode with heightened rock concert levels of sights and sounds, providing excitement for your ears and eyes.

While there are a few hiccups from the show's corny humor and loose book, Childsplay's talented cast and exceptional creative aspects make the end result a fun and informative show. Rock the Presidents will also most likely send intrigued audience members, both young and old, to do some additional research on the presidents. Giving theatregoers the basis to seek out more knowledge is always a good result and shows, once again, why Childsplay is one of the best educational and entertaining theatre companies in town.

Rock the Presidents at Childsplay runs through November 13th, 2016, at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe, with performances on Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Tickets are on sale at www.childsplayaz.org or at the Tempe Center for the Arts Box Office (480) 350-2822 (ext. 0)

Book and Lyrics by Dwayne Hartford
Music by Sarah Roberts
Directed by Anthony Runfola
Choreography: Molly Lajoie
Music Director: Mark 4man
Scenic Design: Holly Windingstad
Costume Design: D. Daniel Hollingshead
Lighting Design: Tim Monson
Projection Design: Limitrophe Films
Sound Design: Christopher Neumeyer
Music Supervision: Jonathan Ivie
Stage Manager: Koryn Weiman
Dramaturge: Jenny Millinger

Cast:
Amy: Jacqui Castillo
Harry: Devon Nickel
Ted: Alan Koutakoun


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