School of Rock rocks from beginning to end. At Shea’s Performing Arts Center through Sunday (April 8) and based on the 2003 movie with Jack Black, this show has quite the résumé, with new music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, book by Julian Fellowes—he of “Downton Abbey” fame—and lyrics by Glenn Slater. This is a raucous, high energy homage to all the wannabe guitar heroes out there who would be the next great Rock Star if only…
Dewey is a chubby, slovenly guitarist with more heart than talent who has been mooching off his college pal, Ned, for years and is kicked out of his band just weeks before the important Battle of the Bands. He is everyone’s worst nightmare of a roommate—he doesn’t pay rent, sleeps all day, and never does laundry. To stave off being evicted by Ned’s strident, controlling girlfriend, Patty, he pretends to be Ned when a call comes for a substitute teacher at a posh, strict prep school. He shows up the next day to teach fifth graders at Horace Green School looking and acting like the slob he is amidst the very straight, uptight faculty and students, all in the charge of the very prim Principal Rosalie Mullins. He is clueless about teaching and so far out of his comfort zone he could well be from another planet. Ah, but then he hears the students in their music class and imagines a way back to the Battle of the Bands.
Rob Colletti as Dewey is solid as he walks a fine line between being so much of a slob and freeloader that you want to slap him, and being such a free spirit who refuses to give up his dream that you want to root for him. Not an easy feat to accomplish. He holds nothing back, using his girth to comic advantage and being fully aware of his own foibles. While Dewey’s desire to create a rock band using the kids in his class is manipulative and self-serving, it also serves them as they loosen up and break free from their very restrictive lives. And the kids…
The kids are terrific, and we are advised by an announcer before the show that, yes, they do play their own instruments. And they play them very well. Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton is a charismatic presence as Freddy the drummer. Theodora Silverman’s bass playing with her Rock Star stare is delightful. Theo Mitchell-Penner is the desperately-wanting-to-be-cool keyboardist, Lawrence. Vincent Molden has the moves as lead guitarist, Zack. Grier Burke as the shy Tomika with the huge voice surprises everyone with “Amazing Grace.” Huxley Westemeier is charming as queen-in-training stylist Billy with his measuring tape around his neck and penchant for glam rock. Lara Nemirovsky is Summer, band manager and teacher’s pet extraordinaire. They all, along with the ensemble kids, are very talented and are the heart of the show. Their song “If Only You Would Listen” speaks to the desire in all of us to be heard and understood by those whom we love and depend upon. They talk of how difficult it is being overscheduled and pressured all the time. They have more energy than that bunny in the commercials, jumping up and down in their school uniforms, dancing, running their desks around the stage, and breaking free, at least for a time, of all the restrictions placed on them. The show-stopper “Stick It to the Man” expresses their (and Dewey’s) frustration and anger at being pawns in someone else’s game.
Lexie Dorsett Sharp has a great voice and is very good as the rigid Rosalie. She has a beer with Dewey, listens to Stevie Nicks, and laments “Where Did All the Rock Go?” She realizes that she has given up on herself to become what is expected of the principal of a tony prep school.
The colorful sets morph easily from bedroom into classroom, teacher lounge, living rooms, and bar, although at one point the backdrop of Dewey’s bed was wobbling so much I was afraid it might fall on his head. The lighting was frenetic at times, blinding portions of the audience when the rock bands performed, and put to excellent use with spots and creating the feel of an over-the-top light show at a mediocre rock concert when Dewey’s old band, No Vacancy performs their song “I’m Too Hot for You.” All part of the experience.
And this show is mostly about experience, in the sense that the story is predictable with no surprises and the characters are stock—the unkempt boy/man who refuses to grow up, the nebbishy henpecked friend, the henpecking girlfriend, and the rigid principle who has fire in her heart. It is the humor of Mr. Fellowes (one of my favorite lines is “the Yoda Hospice for Children Out of Luck”), the rock 'n' roll energy of the music performed by very talented musicians, both on stage and in the pit, the enthusiasm and talent of the adult cast, and the charm, delight, and talent of the kids that elevates School of Rock.