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.
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.
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?
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!