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'Schoolhouse Rock Live!' recreates vignettes from beloved Saturday morning series

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oaks Hills Elementary School students sing the preamble of the U.S. Constitution during rehearsal for the school's musical production of 'Schoolhouse Rock Live!' on Tuesday in the school's gymnasium.When asked if he knew about “Schoolhouse Rock” before joining a production of the educational vignettes at Oak Hills Elementary School, Griffin Warren’s nonchalant response suggests the question is slightly silly.

“Oh yeah. My dad showed me videos,” the fifth-grader said. “I like ‘Conjunction Junction.’”

Griffin also likes “Interjections,” in which he plays “Franklin,” the befuddled football player who flubs a tie-breaking score attempt by making a “connection” in the “other direction,” prompting the crowd to shout out variations of the lesson’s title:

“Hey, you threw it the wrong way!”

“Darn, we just lost the game!”

“Hurray, I’m for the other team!”

Those unfamiliar with these particular words, phrases and clauses likely did not come of age watching Saturday morning cartoons in the 1970s and '80s. That was the heyday of “Schoolhouse Rock,” a series of educational, musically based animated vignettes that ABC-TV sandwiched in during commercial breaks in its children’s programming lineup.

Griffin, who’s “almost 11,” is one of 64 Oak Hills students — mostly third- through fifth-graders — rehearsing for a production of “Schoolhouse Rock Live!” featuring five vignettes performed in two shows on Friday, Feb. 22, at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., in the school auditorium.

Fortunately for Jennifer Yamashiro, who’s directing the Oak Hills production, the lauded series — which lives on through popular DVDs, CDs and marketing memorabilia — strikes a resonate chord not only with her cast, but with their parents. Many of the latter could probably sing the appealingly disguised lessons of “Conjunction Junction” or “I’m Just a Bill” in their sleep.

“It’s definitely timeless,” she said, noting many Oak Hills parents have “Schoolhouse Rock” DVDs and CDs at home. “These kids are thrilled to be part of the music, and the parents are loving to hear the music (rehearsed) at home. Several of the parents said it brought tears to their eyes.”

A local actor with 25 years of experience, Yamashiro has been involved with the Hillsboro Artists Regional Theater since its 1994 founding. The mother of a third-grader and fifth-grader at Oak Hills, she volunteered her services for a “Schoolhouse” production in the wake of drastic budget cuts in the Beaverton School District that reduced the school’s music instruction time in half this year.

With Laura Blattner volunteering as music director and pianist, Yamashiro set about creating a homespun version of “Schoolhouse,” making a point of not showing the original series to the students.

“I prefer to create from scratch and make it more of an organic process,” Yamashiro said. “With the choreography, we try to stay close to the original, because it’s so well known. I also like to give the students some creative license.”

To add a learning component to the experience, she asked the students to write interpretive biographies of the “Schoolhouse” characters they play and turn them in to their respective teachers.

“As an actor, part of your job is to look at your fellow human beings and see what makes them tick,” she said. “It’s taking something on a black and white piece of paper, something one dimensional, and making something three dimensional and real. Being part of that creative process is incredible.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Westview High School students Rachel Halversen and Emma Blattner help the students at Oak Hills Elementary School with their musical production of Schoolhouse Rock Live!

While he likes singing as well as theater, fifth-grader Alek Sharp said if he “had to choose one, I’d choose acting. It’s really fun in the little challenges and taking on other people’s parts.”

His favorite “Schoolhouse Rock” numbers? “ ‘Interjections’ is really fun. ‘Conjunction Junction’ is with a smaller group, so you get to be louder, and it’s more you than everyone else. ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ is just really fun to do.”

Westview High School students Rachel Halversen, 16, and Emma Blattner, 15, volunteered their time to help with choreography in the Oak Hills production. The friends familiarized themselves with “Schoolhouse Rock” when Westview staged a version of it last year.

“I think it’s just cute and completely fun,” Halversen said, admitting it was a challenge “trying to keep the kids on focus.”

“You can tell when they’ve been practicing,” Blattner said, “because they’re really enjoying themselves. I just get big smiles.”

Singling out “Three is the Magic Number” as her favorite of the “Schoolhouse” tunes, fourth-grader Kaitlyn Gingell called her biggest challenge “just remembering all the choreography.”

“You have to be focused, but you’re always with your friends,” she observed. “I think all of them are really doing a good job. I mean, it didn’t start out that way, but we got there eventually.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Colleen Hoffert, a fifth-grader at Oak Hills Elementary School, performs the song 'Interjections' during rehearsal of the school's  musical production  of 'Schoolhouse  Rock Live!'

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