A Classic Cartoon Series is Revived in the Chicago Suburbs

When one thinks of the suburbs, the mind generally veers towards thoughts of a more family-oriented atmosphere. One might envision rows of houses in shaded subdivisions, with back yards where the smell of grilled burgers wafts through the air as children laugh and play on a swing set. Historically, the suburbs have been viewed as a quiet place for families to live, and not necessarily a source for quality theatrical entertainment. But one doesn’t have to travel all the way to the "big city" in order to find quality, family-oriented theater, let alone at a reasonable price. That is where Noble Fool Theatricals at the Pheasant Run Resort finds its mark with the production of "School House Rock Live Jr."

The Pheasant Run Resort is located just off of the busy North Avenue highway in St. Charles and has long been a favored spot for a weekend getaway in the Chicago suburbs. But it wasn’t until Noble Fool Theatricals arrived in 2003 that the resort became a premier location for quality theater productions outside of downtown Chicago. Offering a wide variety of shows, Noble Fool Theatricals has something for everyone to enjoy. And with their latest production, "School House Rock Live Jr.," they aim to present an experience that both parents and children can enjoy together.

A scene from the classic song "Three Is A Magic Number."

Performed by the Noble Fool Theatrical’s (NFT) Youth Ensemble, "School House Rock Live Jr." is a colorful, energetic experience that not only entertains, but also educates. Based on Thomas G. Yohe’s original cartoon shorts, "School House" incorporates twelve of the most beloved and time honored songs from the series into a story about a teacher’s anxiety over teaching her first day of school.

The teacher describes her situation to the audience.

The play opens to a minimal set consisting of little more than a chair, lamp, dining table and a few colored wood blocks. The teacher, played by one of the older cast members, steps onto the stage and --noting her anxiety towards going to work-- turns on an imaginary televison to find a "School House Rock" short playing. Then, as if in direct homage of the original cartoons, the play begins in earnest with the entire cast appearing on stage to sing the "Schoolhouse Rocky" opening theme. After the theme, the overall premise of the play is briefly explained and the cast launches right into the next song. This rapid-fire progression of short spoken interlude then song continued throughout the entire performance.

As the show progressed, each song seemed to garner a larger amount of applause than its predecessor. All of the songs were kept as close to the originals as possible and some songs, such as the classics "Just A Bill" and "Conjunction Junction," were obvious favorites. But overall, as the children performed each song with seemingly more vigor than the last, the audience responded with more thunderous accolades for the young performers.

The cartoons come to life.

And they certainly deserved it, too. The NFT Youth Ensemble consists of young actors and actresses from around the suburbs who are hand-picked from hundreds of auditions. The goal of the Youth Ensemble program is to run a show exactly as if it were an adult production to give the children a real feel for the theater. This definitely shows through as the young cast is required to sing, dance, act and perform all the set changes in this 45 minute production. They all performed admirably well despite a few minor technical problems and the fact that the show goes so fast, they barely had time to catch their breath between numbers. Sitting in the audience, one couldn’t help but feel that they were watching these young actors and actresses getting ready to one day blossom into a successful career in the world of professional theater.

One of the many energetic dance numbers in the show.

As the show ended and the cast took their final bows, an air of nostalgia filled the room and the hearts of anyone old enough to remember the cartoons from their childhood. The cast did a wonderful job of re-imagining the timeless cartoons so parents could easily recognize the songs and the children --who might be too young to remember-- are introduced to the excellent cartoons that have informed and entertained for over 40 years. Thus proving that good, family-oriented theater can be found in the suburbs of Chicago.

"School House Rock Live Jr." will run on Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m. from now until August 18. Noble Fool Theatricals is located at 4052 E. Main St. in St. Charles, Illinois. For more information or to order tickets, please call the theater at (630) 443-0438, or contact them via email at [email protected], or vist their website at www.noblefool.org.

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