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The show opens on Rikki and the other students at Cotesville Magnet High School early on a Saturday morning. They are stressed, tired, and back at school for yet another mandatory pre-testing day. (“Higher”) Rikki and her best friend, Whip, are gearing up for their tests when they accidentally drop their flashcards and Whip stays behind to pick them up. Coral and two other girls invite her to join their study group.
The next scene opens at an apartment shared by Shinn, a college junior studying engineering, and his younger sister Kelly, who has just moved in with him after their parents were forced to take jobs in another country (thanks to Kelly and a Take Your Daughter To Work Day gone horribly awry). Her parents have left her present: a t-shirt that says “Kelly the Destroyer.” Shinn informs her that, despite it being a Saturday, she’s supposed to be at school, and she dashes off, late.
Kelly arrives at the school as the students are filing in for a mandatory assembly, and meets Rikki, and her friends Woodchuck and Mouse. Principal Mungus uses the assembly to introduce the new educational consultant, Miss Hannah Oph… Ophi… just call her Hannah. Hannah announces a new testing and study protocol for the school, the Springfield System, announces a new mascot for the school, the Cotesville Cobras, and introduces the students who participated in her pilot study group: NAGA (Natural Athletes, Gifted Academics). Hannah leads an upbeat conga number in which all the students are get with the program. Kelly does not participate. (“Fall in Line”)
Headed to her first class, Kelly meets more of Rikki’s friends, including Mouse’s bandmates Bee, Kick, and Addie, as well as Zen and Darzee, who are organizing a River Otter Awareness Dance. In the class, she meets Hawkins, a literature and mythology teacher who has been pressed into service teaching chemistry. The members of NAGA have disturbingly perfect recall of the periodic table. Kelly rails against their unthinking rote memorization, but Hawkins does not send her to the office because Mungus has bigger things to worry about.
Back in her office, Principal Mungus takes Hannah to task for changing the mascot without notice. Mungus is panicked by the high-stakes testing regime, possibly more so than the students, because she fears being scapegoated for poor student performance. Hannah offers her help in exchange for control over the school, and Mungus falls under her spell. (“Help Me Help You”)
At home at Shinn’s apartment, Kelly tells him about how rough her first few days of school have been, and how weird the school and students are. He reminds her that she has a record of causing trouble at school in the past. (“Kelly the Destroyer”) Kelly tells him that the school is extremely hot and he gives her some advice about how to fix the air conditioning.
That night, Kelly and Rikki break into the school and go down to the basement to find the A/C. When they do, they realize that it’s not broken at all, but that someone has set it to 95 degrees. They reset it to come on during school the next day, but as they leave the basement, they are caught by Hannah and several NAGA members. (“The Scientific Method”) They invite Rikki and Kelly to their study group, but they get free and make a run for it.
The next day, before Career Directions with the counselor Mr. Marsh, the other students are abuzz with news of Kelly and Rikki’s exploits, and some of them are suspicious that Kelly is a bad influence on their friend. Marsh assures them that if they ever need to talk, he’s available.
In Career Directions, the students receive back the results of their career inventories that Hannah has recalculated. The results are… strange. Meanwhile, the air conditioning kicks on, the room gets very cold, and the NAGA students become very lethargic. Kelly suggests that maybe the students don’t want to live the lives Hannah has picked out for them, and leads a small rebellion against Career Directions, even bringing Marsh on board. (“None of the Above”)
Hannah bursts into the classroom wearing a parka, and insists everyone go outside to the track, where it’s warm. The NAGA students perk back up, and Hannah declares that everyone will be doing sprints. Darzee pulls a muscle and the NAGAs gang up on her and tell her how much of a failure she is. Kelly confronts them over their behavior. (“Tough Love”)
After the sprinting, Hannah announces that a new test will take place tomorrow. Addie has a breakdown from the stress of it all, and Kelly comforts her with the knowledge that failure is not the worst thing that can happen. (“Not the End of the World“) After Kelly leaves, the NAGAs invite her to their study group.
The next evening, the students are setting up for the River Otter Awareness Dance, but Mouse and her band are in a tizzy because Addie, the keyboard player, hasn’t been seen all day. (“So Darn Cute”) Zen bursts in with a very weird discovery… a human-sized skin (like a shed snake skin) that looks disturbingly like Addie, complete with her glasses. The band, Mouse and the Mammals, goes on without Addie, even though Mouse is very hurt that her best friend would bail on her. (“My Otter”)
Suddenly, the NAGAs burst in, with Addie, who is now one of them. They tear down all the decorations and stop the dance, then leave. (“Fall in Line Reprise”)
The students are crushed by the strange behavior of their friends, but Kelly has a theory – the temperature, the mascot, the name NAGA, the skin – Hannah is turning them all into brainwashed cobras! It seems far-fetched, but it’s the only explanation. The students resolve to fight. Meanwhile, down in the basement, Hannah prepares her cobras for battle. (“Fight or Flight”)
The human students try to figure out what they’re up against in the cobras and Hannah’s Springfield System, and Woodchuck remembers that there was a cobra outbreak in Springfield Missouri in 1953. It must be connected!
Seen in flashback Woodchuck tells the story of how a young boy went into a pet shop to buy a fish, and after the fish died and he was denied a refund, opened a freshly delivered package on the porch — all the way from India! Several days later, some women out gardening discover a snake in their yard and kill it with a hoe, but it’s unlike any snake they’ve ever seen before. They take it to the Jr. High science teacher, who identifies it as a cobra! The people of Springfield think that’s hilarious…until cobras start turning up all over town. Then it was not so funny. Finally, to solve their cobra problem, they get an ice cream truck, and drive around town playing Indian snake charmer music to try to lure the cobras out of hiding. By the end of the scare, they’d caught 12 snakes, and everyone knows snakes ship by the dozen, so they figure they’ve killed them all. (“Springfield Flashback”)
The students realize they need proof of what Hannah’s up to, and there’s only one place to find it: in her office in the basement, past all of the cobras. They split up and sneak through the school, but Darzee and Zen are captured by the cobras. Finally, Kelly, Rikki and Mouse make it to the office and get the evidence, but as they’re making a run for the door, Mouse is captured. (“Mouse in a Maze/Trash Mammal”)
On the outside, they decide that Rikki should take the evidence to Mr. Marsh – he’ll know what to do. When she gets to his office and shows him the evidence, he tells her that he’s very disappointed in her, because it’s impolite to disturb someone else’s next. Rikki realizes too late that he’s now a cobra too. Three of the cobras appear, and Rikki is captured as well.
Kelly and the few remaining humans are trying to figure out their next move when Hannah and the cobras come out and find them. Coral and the others try to convince them that it’s really much nicer to just let go and become a cobra. Suddenly, the cobra versions of all of their friends – Mouse, Zen, Darzee, Addie… and Rikki – are there. Just when the humans are about to be sucked under the snake mind-control, Kelly snaps out of it, and pulls the others to safety, but as they run, Woodchuck is lost. (“Shed Your Skin”)
Now thoroughly demoralized and mourning the loss of their friends, the humans are considering making one last stand versus running away, when Hawkins appears. Hawkins tells them a legend about a girl who found a village overrun with snakes, and all the villagers were begging her to save them. They didn’t need a hero – just a person – and she was a person. Kelly hears all of the cobrafied students begging her to save them. (“The Legend”)
As Hawkins goes to leave, they hand Kelly a comic book that Rikki had been drawing in class – “Kelly the Destroyer”. Kelly reads about her amazing exploits through Rikki’s eyes, and draws the strength to go back and fight for her best friend. (“Kelly the Destroyer Reprise”)
The humans go to the cobras under the ruse of wanting to join them. Before transforming them, however, Hannah wants to take the opportunity to gloat. (“Come Back to Bite Ya”) But when it’s time to actually start transforming, Kick bolts and Kelly uses the distraction to find and grab Rikki. Kelly’s grasp breaks the spell on Rikki, and she’s restored to herself. The students each run to their friends and set them free. Hannah, when she discovers this has happened, turns into a giant, enraged cobra. Just when Giant Cobra Hannah is about to kill all of the students, Principal Mungus comes in – “I know mung fu!” – and defeats the giant cobra once and for all with her mongoose-like fighting skills.
The school is back to normal, but now all of the students have to rebuild their relationships and lives. (“Turn the Page”) As they pick up and head home, we see that one cobra, Vi, has not been restored, and is off to another school to start a study group…
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