"The problem with "edutainment," at least once kids get past "Sesame Street" age, is that one side of the equation always seems to trump the other. It's either empty fluff or a complete snooze.
That's what makes Childsplay's "Rock the Presidents" such a breath of fresh air. Or, more accurately, such a blast of guitar-crunching, fist-pumping, lighter-flicking awesomeness. In the proud tradition of "Schoolhouse Rock!," the world-premiere stage musical is a raucous, cheeky and ultimately moving salute to America's 44 commanders-in-chief.
The consistently catchy songs are by Tempe composer Sarah Roberts and lyricist/book writer Dwayne Hartford, Childsplay playwright-in-residence. There's the country twang of "Ronald Reagan," the breezy Caribbean vibe of "John and Tom" (i.e. Adams and Jefferson) and the languid funk of the scandalicious "Not All Bad." There's even a hair-metal shout-out to -- who else? -- "Benjamin Harrison."
And the best thing about "Rock the Presidents" is that it has something real to say about history.
Yes, the show steers away from anything potentially controversial, praising, for example, Reagan's anti-Communist grit while ignoring the kinds of issues that still divide Republicans and Democrats. Yet it's more than just feel-good propaganda, touching on painful subjects such as slavery, Reconstruction and the Trail of Tears. If there is any agenda here, it is to acknowledge the nation's imperfections and inspire us to rise above them, as in the lilting refrain, "John and Tom, different as can be / If they can get along, why can't you and me?""
-Kerry Lengel, The Arizona Republic/azcentral.com