BWW Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK at Dallas Summer Musicals
With back to school season upon us, students young and old are eagerly anticipating their first day of classes. But, for two handfuls of miniature musicians, the major assignment this school year is rocking around the country in the first national tour of SCHOOL OF ROCK, now onstage at the Music Hall at Fair Park, which concludes Dallas Summer Musicals 2017-2018 Broadway series. And even when the star teacher fails to make the grade, the kiddos pull together to ace the group project.Based on the 2003 film of the same name, SCHOOL OF ROCK is the story of unemployed rocker wannabe Dewey Finn, who cons his way into a substitute-teaching gig as a means to pay his rent. Dewey doesn't know much about teaching (or children, for that matter), but the room full of tweens is the perfect solution to his lack of cash flow. He discovers that he can combine his love of rock and this fake career of his, and convinces the kids to form a band. Once his prep school misfit band is shaped, Dewey's "simple" plan is to convince the prissy principal to allow the kids to accompany him on a field trip where he hopes to win the local Battle of the Band contest, making him the superstar he'd always dreamed of becoming. What could go wrong? If you can look past the issue of fraud - and the minor plot point of Dewey manipulating a coworker through flirting and alcohol - there's actually a great message about arts education and acceptance. And there are a whole lot of laughs. When the musical closes on Broadway next January, it will have played beyond the three-year mark, which is a notable success, especially given the fact that its home (the Winter Garden Theatre, which formerly housed mega-hits CATS and MAMMA MIA for decades) seats upwards of 1,500 guests per night. The stage production is written by Julian Fellowes (based on Mike White's screenplay) with a less-than-memorable score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater. While the handful of ALW tunes that feature the younger actors ("You're in the Band," "Stick it to the Man") leave an upbeat, lasting impression, most songs act in furthering the plot, but struggle to be memorable - no CATS pun intended.
The challenge with musicalizing any film is creating a production that pulls in audiences and makes them forget about the performers who famously originated the characters now onstage. In this case, Jack Black is just really damn hard to beat. While reports of the New York stars (Alex Brightman, Eric Peterson) were glowing and stated that they embodied the fun and dynamism from the film, their touring counterpart Rob Colletti never seemed to exceed a 70% energy level and plowed through laugh lines with inconsistent comedic ability. Fortunately, his voice soared on Webber's rangy rock score, which at least made the 16 songs he effortlessly led worth listening to.
Luckily, the classroom was full of gold-star castmates, and when those kids took the stage, their electricity could have powered the entire fairgrounds all summer. Each and every young performer skillfully commanded the stage and shared their expert musical talents, but it's impossible to not offer extra credit to Vincent Molden (Zach, guitar), Natalie Bingham (understudy for Katie, bass), Theo Mitchell-Penner (Lawrence, piano), Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton (Freddy, drums) and Grier Burke (Tamika, vocal soloist). And while the supporting adult characters weren't given an overwhelming amount of stage time, Lexie Dorsett Sharp (Principal Rosalie Mullins), Emily Borromeo (Patty), and DFW favorite John Campione, who filled in on opening night for Dewey's roommate Ned, all received perfect report cards.
It's hard to fault the show's star for failing to achieve the nearly inimitable amount of energy created so perfectly on film, but even if Dewey is due for some after school studying, there's plenty of fun when the kids come out for recess.Class continues at Fair Park through August 26, before taking a field trip to Fort Worth's Bass Hall from August 28th through September 2nd. Tickets and more information can be found at www.DallasSummerMusicals.org or www.BassHall.com.
Note: Local actor John Campione performed the role of Ned on opening night, and for Theo, the lead singer of rock band "No Vacancy", this Thursday. Campione understudies nearly ten characters in the show but does not have scheduled performances.