COLUMBIA — There’s just something about “Schoolhouse Rock!” There might not be a school-time memory more universal and beloved than the quirky (and surprisingly clever) cartoons that have taught so many students about grammar, math and government.
“Schoolhouse Rock!” can cause children and adults to break into song. Often, it’s spontaneous. Just the mention of the cartoon could start someone singing the jingle that teaches proper use of conjunctions: “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?”
But the children who auditioned at Benton Elementary School on Saturday were aiming to turn those songs into an event. Performing Arts in Children’s Education, or PACE, is putting on a production called “Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr.,” a trimmed-down version of the original “Schoolhouse Rock!” musical.
In the hallway between a classroom and the gym, six or seven children wait in line to sing, watching other kids participate in the dance audition.
Of those waiting to sing, some are excited, but most are a little anxious.
“You’re a nervous wreck when you come in, but then when you leave you’re like, ‘Noooo!’” said Rachel Foley, who gave her age as “10 in two days.” This will be Rachel’s fourth play, her most recent being “The Myth and the Legend of Zink the Zebra.”
Rachel’s friend, Chloe White, 10, was also in “The Myth and the Legend of Zink the Zebra.” Sitting with Chloe before the “Schoolhouse Rock!” auditions, the two girls mimed how nervous they felt before they went on stage for their last play, grabbing each other’s arms and shaking back and forth.
“She almost pulled my sockets out,” Rachel said. “But she did great!”
Many of the other children have done PACE productions before. When asked what character he played in PACE’s production of “Annie,” Aro Ntatin, 9, didn’t answer, but the other children piped up immediately. “Mr. Bundles!” they said, and Aro broke into a wide grin.
“He loves that name,” Rachel said.
In the gym, Izzie Baldwin, a Stephens College student and, at 19, PACE’s youngest director, went through a final run-through of the dance steps. Many of the children got it, but one or two were a few steps behind, watching the others carefully and copying their movements.
When Baldwin finished the run-through and congratulated them for their hard work, she gave them a synopsis of the play and explained how every song will have a different theme.
The song they’d been dancing to, “Interplanet Janet,” will be “inspired by the 80s,” Baldwin told them. “Everything will be day-glo!”
Despite the occasional periods of anxiety, all of the children enjoy what they’re doing.
“You get to come out of your own world,” said Mahogany Thomas, 12.
Play is the key word, Baldwin said.
“You’re playing on stage,” she said. “I’ve seen so many kids just grow so far.”
“Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr.” will be April 24-27 at Smithton Middle School.