At a time when the current political landscape appears to be suffering its most turbulent and, let’s be honest, somewhat bizarre phase, the timing could not be better. Childsplay Theatre’s exuberant musical Rock The Presidents returns to the stage until November 13 at Tempe Center for the Arts, and with it comes a welcome sense of civility and even reverence for the highest office in the land and for the people who strive to serve within its Oval Office walls.
The family oriented, rock ‘n roll musical is both a concert and a history lesson, told from the point of view of those who preserve, protect and defend those whose job it is to preserve, protect and defend: the secret service; those special agents in the black suits with the skinny black ties and the dark glasses who every now and again appear to be passing secret messages into that little radio mic attached to their wrists. Who would know the President of the United States better than those men and women in black? In this case, all the president’s men are Ted (Alan Khoutakoun), Amy (Jacqueline Castillo) and Harry (Devon Nickel) who together must be the hardest working actors currently performing on a valley stage – for ninety non-stop minutes, plus a well-deserved intermission, they never quit singing and dancing, and it comes at us at full tilt from the get-go. It’s not just the sound that’s turned to eleven, it’s the energy.
It’s appropriate that in-house writer and lyricist Dwayne Hartford, with music by Sarah Roberts, has chosen a concert approach to tell us something about each and every president. When you look at the cheering, flag-waving, boisterous crowds as seen in the clips of past political conventions projected on the set’s backscreen during the opening moments, there’s already a rock ‘n roll vibe established, and the music hasn’t even begun.
Throughout this colorful and undeniably fun, musical show there is so much to learn that it might be worth taking notes. For instance, did you know that the 27th President, William Taft, loved milk so much he brought a couple of cows to the White House? Apparently so. And as the show progresses, we learn that over the years, other animals took up White House residency, including a horse, a couple of bear cubs, a hog, and, of course, the ever faithful dog. And did you know that while the official number of president’s served is 44, there are only 43 different names. One president served twice. He was the 22nd and the 24th president. Look it up.
There’s also the case of the father of the country, President George Washington and the urban legend of those wooden teeth. In truth, they weren’t wooden at all. In Rock The President’s we learn that those teeth were really made of ivory, metal “… and some other stuff,” and as you can imagine, they really hurt.
There’s boundless invention in Hartford’s book as different subjects and political themes are presented. In the upbeat number, John and Tom, the musical makes the important point of how civility in politics should always work, stating that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson may have been as different as they can be, but if they could get along, why can’t you and me? It’s a lesson that could extend to a few current political figures. Then there’s the story of the volatile Andrew Jackson, cleverly illustrated as though his life was a video game; each success in his confrontational eight year presidency sent him further to the next gaming level.
Among all the good-natured humor, the show also tackles moments of poignancy and reflection. There’s the section that speculates what might have occurred during the terms of President’s Lincoln and Kennedy had they not fallen victim to an assassination. There’s also the clever and more light-hearted moment when covering the names of those presidents residing in something called the Lonely President’s Lounge; those who served but whose names we may have forgotten. Remember our 13th president? Most don’t. It was Millard Fillmore. And there are others, including James Buchanan, Jr.
Because the show is told almost exclusively in song and dance, with great musical support from it’s seven piece band under Mark 4man’s musical direction, it’s difficult to tell where Anthony Runfola’s direction ends and Molly Lajoie’s choreography begins, but it doesn’t matter; the end result is what’s important, and Rock The Presidents definitely rocks.
One of the highlights of any Childsplay production is that moment once the show concludes. It’s where the cast talk directly to the audience and invite questions regarding how the play or musical came to be. With a Childsplay audience you’re never quite sure what a child may ask, but it’s always something that, as an adult, can never fail to entertain. On Saturday’s opening, one child asked actor Jacqueline Castillo the following. If she could paint the White House a different color, what would it be? It brought the house down. (The answer was, by the way, lime green)
In the past, the idea of learning math formulas or the names of great literary writers recalled through the lyrics of a song seemed radical when first introduced in the classroom, but it worked. Here’s a tip for every young student. If you want to learn the names of all past presidents and repeat them in the order in which they served, here’s what you do: Grab the show’s soundtrack recording and learn the lyrics to the opening song, Hail to the Chiefs. You’ll not only rattle off each and every name with ease, you’ll also impress your teacher while doing it.
For more regarding times, dates and ticket, CLICK HERE for the official Childsplay website