By Brad Haynes
Based on the 2003 Richard Linklater film that made Jack Black a star, the very American School of Rock gets a musical adaptation by a couple of Brits (playwright Julian Fellowes, best known stateside for creating Downton Abbey, wrote the book and Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music) with lyrics by American lyricist Glenn Slater, known mostly for his collaborations with Alan Menken. It’s still playing Broadway and now the first U.S. tour of the show has made its way to Orlando.
Telling the tale of rocking loser Dewey Finn (Rob Colletti), we initially find him crashing at the home of his best friend, former band mate and current substitute teacher Ned Schneebly (Matt Bittner). Ned’s live-in girlfriend Patty (Emily Borromeo) has had enough of Dewey’s free loading and he knows it. When Dewey intercepts a phone call offering Ned over $900 a week for a substitute teacher gig at the affluent Horace Green Prep he impersonates his pal and begins to teach the kids the only thing he knows…rock!
Colletti portrays the phony teacher as a lovable schlub who quickly sees that the majority of the kids in his class need the the confidence that performing music can instill much more than they need the 3 Rs. Plus, it’s really the only thing he has to offer.
And these are some pretty amazing kids. In an announcement before the show, Webber confirms that the children onstage are indeed playing the instruments in their hands. Their musicianship is impressive for any age.
The students, who all seem to have some type of parental miscommunication going on, are basically stereotypes, but they are given enough character to actually break out of the stereotypical mold. Billy (John Michael Pitera), a young boy who becomes the band’s costumer and hides copies of Vogue inside copies of Sports Illustrated to try and keep his true interests from his father, is hilarious and endearing all at once.
School of Rock finds Dewey butting heads with Horace Green principal Rosalie Mullins (Lexie Dorsett Sharp) but he soon finds a way to win her over as well when he discovers her weakness for Stevie Nicks. The role of Rosalie could easily come off as over-the-top and forced, but Sharp brings a winning sense of authenticity to the role, making her transition from uptight principal to a fan of the rockin’ sub easy to believe. It’s also helped by the fact that her chemistry with Colletti is spot on.
The transition of the parents from being disapproving to supportive is a little more difficult to swallow, and comes a little quickly, but doesn’t completely distract from the show’s Battle of the Bands finale.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself leaving the theater and singing the chorus of one of the show’s stand out tunes, “Stick It To The Man,” over and over again. It’s that catchy and, like the show itself, will be hard to quickly get out of your system.
School of Rock plays the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at 8 p.m. through Friday, December 29; at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, December 30; and at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, December 31. Click here to purchase tickets.