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We the People: America Rocks!

Theatreworks USA's rousing new musical is an effective and entertaining history lesson for youngsters about the goals of our Founding Fathers.

Jamie LaVerdiere, Abe Goldfarb, F. Michael Haynie, and
Colin Campbell McAdoo in We the People: America Rocks!
(© Joan Marcus)
Nowadays, more and more educators believe the way to hook youngsters on American history is through contemporary music and satire, and the rousingWe the People: America Rocks! -- which Theatreworks USA has brought to the Lucille Lortel Theatre for a summer run -- definitely does the trick.

While the high-energy show is laden with anachronisms -- the foremost of which is presenting founding fathers George Washington (Colin Campbell McAdoo), John Adams (F. Michael Haynie), Thomas Jefferson (Jamie LaVerdiere), and Benjamin Franklin (Abe Goldfarb) as a bewigged rock band -- the lessons of the past still come through loud and clear.

On Adam Koch's adaptable red-white-and-blue set, the presiding men come to the aid 14-year-old Dawn Shapiro (Badia Farha), who wants to run for president of her school but has only superficial motives for doing so. Their tactic -- accomplished through a series of chatty songs -- is to instruct the uninformed but eager-to-learn junior-high-school student in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the three branches of federal government, the notion of checks and balances, and the power that the right to vote gives every citizen. (One vital subject that remains untouched, however, is the framers' insistence on church-state separation.)

While just about every one of the show's word-heavy ditties -- penned by a large variety of songwriters -- suggests the cleverness of bright undergrads putting everything they know into words and music, it's Adam Overett's ode to "The First Amendment" that may be the outstanding piece in the eight-number score.

The show's conviviality is further enhanced by Gordon Greenberg's direction, which leans toward making Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin as cool as possible -- with much attention paid to inserting contemporary jargon like "superfly" and "bangin'" and less emphasis put on displaying their actual personalities. (In the case of Adams and Jefferson, for instance, the intermittent animosity that made them early United States frenemies is happily ignored.)

Choreographer Michelle Lynch also keeps things hip-hopping; the hyperkinetic performers, including feisty Farha, almost never take a restful breath while cavorting in Lora LaVon's period costumes with "decorative zippers." Even the audience is pumped for hearty responses, with the cast often encouraging the attendees to cheer and hoot.

Still, just how much new knowledge the kindergarten-to-third-grade set will retain is questionable. Giving an unannounced pop quiz afterwards might simply be unwise.