Julie’s Rock The Presidents Review

With Hamilton all the rage on Broadway, and the presidential election less than two weeks away, there was no better time for my family to attend Childsplay’s production of Rock the Presidents at Tempe Center for the Arts.  Headed to the theater, I engaged the kids (Landen, 10 and Caroline, 8) with questions such as, “how many presidents has our country had?”  “Forty four!”  Screams Landen from the back seat. I cheered him on; surprised that he knew the answer, only to later learn that we elected Grover Cleveland twice as our nation’s 22nd and 24th presidents so technically we have only had 43 presidents. Newfound knowledge is just part of what makes Rock the Presidents so fun.

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The show grabs the audience from the get-go with the lively number Hail! Flashy lights create a rock-concert atmosphere as the cast bounds about on stage in choreographed numbers and acrobatic stunts. There are a few songs devoted to the “lesser-known” presidents such as, Who in the World is Millard Fillmore?

The lovely First Ladies is a tribute to our nation’s first partners and it is noted that we may not be far from a First Gentleman.

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Rock the Presidents has a run time of 1 hour 30 minutes (including 15 minute intermission and Q&A at the end) which makes it perfect for the antsier audience members. Each act features The Presi-tron, a quiz-show type scene that gets the audience involved by having them answer questions in a physical way, i.e. Shake your arms, wave, fist in the air, etc. I could see my younger child glaring towards her brother for the correct answer before giving hers. I myself glared towards my politically-minded husband for the answers.

In our current election climate, it was hard to watch The Buck Stops Here and not wonder if our current nominees would accept the level of responsibility that the lyrics describe. Fortunately, the show quickly takes a fun turn with, They Got a Dog, which highlights presidential pets. Did you know Calvin Coolidge had Pygmy Hippopotamus at the White House?2016 rockPres11.jpg

Rock the Presidents keeps the energy up throughout the show. The catchy Ronald Regan is a toe-tapping number prior to the powerful, What Could Have Been? That deals with what happens when an assassin takes a president. The entire show is set against a backdrop of history with images and video on a large screen. Pre-Kennedy assassination images notwithstanding, the most moving images are of depression era America. The Only Things We Have to Fear is a shout out to the optimists that brings the musical back from a darker place.

Are You a President-to-be? Ends the show with an uplifting message of hope and speaks of breaking barriers of race and gender. That’s a powerful message for today’s youth and judging by the standing ovation, a much-needed one. During the Q&A (a Chilsplay tradition) my kids were not among those who raised their hands that they wanted to be president but they definitely cast their vote for Rock the Presidents!


“Wowie Wow Wow” Review of “Junie B. Jones is NOT a Crook” at Childsplay

Kellie1.jpgI arrived at the Tempe Center for the Arts with one very excited 9-year- old boy who LOVES Junie B. Jones. Junie B. is a popular girl in our household. It is because of her that my son, Andrew, started reading chapter books. He wanted no part of leaving the picture books behind…until the slightly naughty and always hysterical Junie B. Jones entered his life (thank you Junie B.!).

We LOVE Childsplay and have been coming to shows whenever possible since he was mature enough to sit through a show. Andrew, was a Kid Reporter for Childsplay last season and was excited for an opportunity to come back (and not have to be the one doing the work this time 🙂 ).  Pairing two of “our favs” – Childsplay and Junie B. – well, it was a recipe for awesomeness! In short, the show did not disappoint!

Being familiar with the two Barbara Park stories that were intertwined in this play – “Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook” and “Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren” – it was so fun to watch the stories be so beautifully blended together. The playwright, Allison Gregory, did magical work of marrying these two stories.  So much so that if you did not know they were two stories, you would think they were meant to be written this way.

I definitely think it would add to the experience of young children if they were familiar with these stories before coming. Both books are on sale in the lobby, so if you come early you can purchase them and read them just before the show. There are other items on sale, including a “Junie B. Jones Activity Book” that your children will enjoy. All purchases made there help support Childsplay’s efforts to bring their plays into the schools for even more children to have access to the arts.

Per usual for Childsplay, the set and costumes were so creative and authentic to the stories! They definitely add to the overall experience. The costumes were so well done that I could literally SEE the stories unfold exactly as we had read them – furry mittens, lightening sneakers and all!  The set was of the school yard and inside the school – and very realistic and beautifully designed.

The Actors — Wow! They did an AWESOME job! We have seen many of them in other plays and recognized their faces in the program. While in the very beginning of the play we watched them and thought “Oh! He played X in ‘Goodnight Moon’ and “She played Y in ‘Charlotte’s Web’”… within moments we only saw them as Junie B. Jones and her awesome classmates and school personnel. We forgot about what their names are and just enjoyed who they were at that moment…our endearing friends from stories we treasure. (But you can read all about their real life personas in the playbill as well.)
I highly recommend this show to everyone with young children in your lives.  I also recommend it to ALL who are children at heart – those who find delight in the whimsical and profound lessons of the ups and downs of friendship — from the viewpoint of a spunky young girl, who feels things with her whole hilarious self!

Childsplay’s 40th season is off to a wonderful start with Dwayne Hartford as the new Artistic Direction (pictured here with Andrew).  His significant expertise and experience in all aspects of Childsplay are sure to lead this wonderful theatre company in exciting new directions.  My personal hope is that he will continue to collaborate with Allison Gregory in bringing Junie B. Jones back to delight us with many more charming and boisterous tales from the school yard! Pretty please. 🙂

~ Kellie Burkhart, Family Blogger