George Keating is a busy man. He co-wrote the book for School House Rock Live!, acted in the original cast, and recently directed it at the Marriot Theatre in Chicago. Currently, he is performing Les Miserables at Drury Lane Theatre and rehearsing for Brigadoon at the Goodman Theatre. It is a gorgeous afternoon in Chicago, however, and he is out walking his two small dogs. “They remind me of what’s important in life,” he says. I called George to chat with him about his experiences working on School House Rock Live!
Keating and Scott Ferguson, two of the three authors of the book for School House Rock Live!, met after graduating from college in 1993. Their idea for the show came from a shared love of the original TV program, School House Rock!. After finally securing the rights to it, the show opened in the basement of a café in Chicago with performances during the week and late on Friday and Saturday nights.
Keating explains how he and Ferguson didn’t want the show to simply be a review of the songs from the cartoon. He wanted a plot that the audience could follow with characters. The story began with a preliminary idea and grew as the cast did improvisation with the material. “The actors were incredibly important in the process,” he says. “From there, we just kept shaping it and it kept evolving. It has always been an evolution, but it has also been about us honoring and loving the material from the original cartoons.”
Despite the original show’s young audience, “We never wrote it as a children’s theatre piece,” Keating says. “This was a nostalgia piece for adults like me who had these memories of watching School House Rock! on Saturday mornings with their cereal bowl in front of them. Our performances were BYOB.” Apart from this, however, there was also a touring version of the show that went around to schools and libraries. “That’s one of the challenges we had. With the adults we could have a little more of a tongue-in-cheek approach to the show. But with the children’s touring show it was always a celebration.”
Keating just celebrated the 20th anniversary of School House Rock Live! last year with the original cast and crew. The reunion was held in the basement where the show opened, and Bob Dorough, the original musical director from School House Rock! was there. Twenty-one years later, Keating said, the show is still exciting for audiences because “it invites them to participate. It makes room for them. The show is all about inclusiveness. It says play is for everybody, no matter how old you are.” This musical certainly has a place in people’s hearts. For instance, three couples have gotten married after meeting while working together on the show!
This summer, Indiana University’s professional summer theatre, Indiana Festival Theatre, is presenting a production of School House Rock Live! directed by Lee Cromwell with Musical Direction by Nat Zegree. The show opens on June 21st and runs until July 12th. Call the box office at 812-855-0514 or visit theatre.indiana.edu for more information on Indiana Festival Theatre.
Mandy Wenz is a rising Junior at Indiana University, majoring in Theatre & Drama with a General Honors Notation from the Hutton Honors College. She is currently interning with the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance as a Marketing Assistant.