Calculus: The Musical!

Enthusiastic students posing with two previous "Calculus" cast members

A comic review of the concepts and history of calculus comes to the Valley next week as “Calculus: The Musical!” hits the Bulpitt Auditorium at Phoenix College. It’s being performed Tues, Feb. 7 at 11am and 7pm. No textbook is required. Good to know since mine only lasted the week or so I survived my college calculus class.

I’m hoping calculus ala musical theater will make math a little less scary, though I suspect grammar will always be my first love. “Calculus: The Musical!” was born as a teaching tool for one of its creators, Marc Gutman. Seems he “found that setting formulas and rules to music helped his students learn and retain tricky information.”

Gutman holds a master’s degree in math education, but I’m told his other talents include improv origami. Fellow “Calculus: The Musical!” creator Sadie Bowman is an actor, writer and musician who readily admits to learning most her math from Square One TV. They toured the show together for two years, but are working these days on other projects for Matheatre, an enterprise they started in 2006.

“Calculus: The Musical!” now tours out of Know Theatre in Cincinnati, where Bowman serves as education director. The musical is “a blend of sketch comedy, musical theatre and classroom lecture” designed to show that the calculus used in rocket science “isn’t exactly rocket science.”

The musical parodies styles of music from light opera to hip hop while introducing concepts like limits, integration and differentiation. Sounds like something straight out of sex ed. Until you get to the “high points of calculus history.” Think Archimedes to Riemann. That insatiable drive to find the instantaneous rate of change. And something about the area under the curve.

The work includes “musical tributes” to folks like Gilbert & Sullivan, Eminem and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There’s “5 Sizes of Numbers” ala “In My Life” by the Beatles, “Triggy Rules” ala “Goody Two Shoes” by Adam Ant and “The Limit’s Alright” ala “The Kids Are Alright” by the Who.

Also “Chain Rule” ala “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin, “Mean Angst” ala “Teen Angst” by Cracker, “A Critical Point” ala “Material Girl” by Madonna and “Power Rule” ala “Downtown” by Petula Clark. I’m still working on arithmetic for tunes like “Born to Sum” ala Springsteen.

If “Calculus: The Musical!” leaves you hungry for more art mixed with academics, get your tickets for the Feb. 12 preview of Childsplay’s original world-premiere titled “Rock the Presidents.” Everything’s more fun when set to song and dance. Even rocket science.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Matheatre and “Calculus: The Musical!” — which is part of the Arizona SCITECH Festival

Coming up: A gallery tale

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