BWW Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK - THE MUSICAL: From Brainiacs to Musical Maniacs

BWW Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK - THE MUSICAL: From Brainiacs to Musical Maniacs

School of Rock - The Musical

Based on the Paramount Movie Written by Mike White, Book by Julian Fellowes, Lyrics by Glenn Slater, New Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Directed by Laurence Connor, Choreographed by JoAnn M. Hunter; Scenic and Costume Design, Anna Louizos; Lighting Design, Natasha Katz; Sound Design, Mick Potter; Hair Design, Josh Marquette; Music Director, Martyn Axe; Production Stage Manager, Michael Danek

CAST: Merritt David Janes, Gary Trainor, Lexie Dorsett Sharp, Layne Roate, Madison Micucci, Arianna Pereira, Leanne Parks, Jacob Moran, Alyssa Emily Marvin, Dylan Trueblood, Camille De La Cruz, Cameron Trueblood, Mystic Inscho, Sammy Dell, Theo Mitchell-Penner, Sami Bray, Gabriella Uhl, Matt Caplan, Deidre Lang, Sinclair Mitchell, Jonathan Timpanelli, Patrick Clanton, Liam Fennecken, Lizzie Klemperer, JP Qualters, Alison Cusano, Khalifa White

Performances through February 24 at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA, as part of the 2018-2019 Lexus Broadway in Boston Season; Tickets at the Box Office, or at Ticketmaster 800-982-2787, or www.BroadwayInBoston.com

W.C. Fields famously advised against working with children or animals and, although it has none of the latter, School of Rock - The Musical is bursting with kids, all of them bursting with talent. Fortunately, Merritt David Janes (Dewey Finn) and Lexie Dorsett Sharp (Rosalie Mullins) are strong performers in their own right and keep their heads above water as the featured grownups in this pool. Based on the 2003 movie written by Mike White and starring Jack Black, the stage version is the brainchild of Andrew Lloyd Webber (new music), a guy who knows a thing or two about creating successful musicals, with lyrics by Glenn Slater, and book by Tony-nominated Julian Fellowes, the creator, writer, and executive producer of the juggernaut television series, "Downton Abbey."

School of Rock follows the ups and downs of failed, wannabe rock star Dewey who swipes the identity of his roommate Ned (Layne Roate) to pick up a substitute teaching gig at Horace Green, an elite, snobby prep school. Hoping to get paid in advance to chip in some rent money to Ned and his girlfriend Patty (Madison Micucci), Dewey crosses paths and butts heads with Rosalie, the tightly-wrapped, buttoned-up principal who does not suffer his foolishness gladly. Doing the best he can to avoid her steely gaze while behaving like the class clown, Dewey does a better job than any of his colleagues in bonding with his students. Although they don't know what to make of him at first, he wins them over by turning the class of brainiacs into rock musical maniacs.

That's basically the premise of School of Rock, with a few feel good messages woven in to produce the "aww" factor, but it's really about the kids and their ability to play one amazing riff after another. Mystic Inscho (Zack) on lead guitar, Leanne Parks (Katie) on bass, Theo Mitchell-Penner (Lawrence) on keyboards, and Cameron Trueblood (Freddy) on drums play with brio and great technical skills, belying their young ages, and a couple of melodious backup singers (Arianna Pereira, Shonelle; Alyssa Emily Marvin, Marcy) and one powerhouse lead singer (Camille De La Cruz, Tomika) complete the band. Dewey designates Summer (Sami Bray), a take charge type if there ever was one, to be the manager, and doles out assignments as roadies, security, techies, and stylist to Sophie (Gabriella Uhl), Mason (Dylan Trueblood), James (Jacob Moran), and Billy (Sammy Dell).

The young'uns are also doing great ensemble work, as are their adult counterparts who toggle between playing their parents, teachers, and the group of rock musicians calling themselves No Vacancy who eject Dewey from their band. The grownups are Matt Caplan, Deidre Lang, Sinclair Mitchell, Jonathon Timpanelli, Patrick Clanton, Liam Fennecken, Lizzie Klemperer, JP Qualters, Alison Cusano, and Khalifa White. The national tour is directed by Laurence Connor, music directed by Martyn Axe, and choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter ("Stick It to the Man" is one of the highlights). The Broadway design team of Anna Louizos (scenic and costume), Natasha Katz (lighting), and Mick Potter (sound) is intact.

School of Rock - The Musical opened on Broadway in December, 2015, and ran for 1,309 performances before closing last month. Nominated for four 2016 Tony Awards, the show has been running since November, 2016, in London, and the present tour has been on the road since September, 2017. Its thin story notwithstanding, it has received rave reviews and, judging by the opening night response, it is an audience favorite. After all, it's a feel good musical with life lessons learned and a happy ending. What's not to like?

Photo credit: Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade (Merritt David Janes and School of Rock - The Musical band)

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From This Author Nancy Grossman

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