BWW Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK, Well, Rocks at Clowes Memorial Hall
I came into the performance of School of Rock with what I would describe as confused expectations. I had seen the film version years ago, of course, but I was curious and puzzled about how well it would translate into a musical. It ended up being quite a bit of fun, but the real focal point of it all was easy to identify: the kids.
In complete honesty, the first part of the show fell a bit flat for me. Of course, it cannot be easy for anyone to fill the shoes of Jack Black, but Merritt David Janes put in a valiant effort. At first, I could not warm to him as the character of Dewey. But that was before the pivotal moment of the show.
The show took a turn for the better as soon as the kids took center stage. They are the highlight of the show for me. It's rather hard to resist cute kids, but it's even harder when you get to see them use their incredible musical talents to light up the stage. That is one thing I appreciate immensely about this show, and it is laudable that every child on that stage is playing live. There are no play-along tracks; each and every sound made by the guitars, drums, and voices is theirs.
Out of the kid cast, it's easy to see that they casted the key roles well, the most central members of the band. Those include the instrumentalists Zack (Mystic Inscho), Freddy (Cameron Trueblood), Katie (Leanne Parks), and Lawrence (Theo Mitchell-Penner). They were exceptional at showing their aptitude for their respective instrument and adding some individual quirk into their performance. The back-up singers also made for great fun. But if I had to pick one kid, it would be Sami Bray, who plays Summer. I enjoy Summer as a character anyway, but Sami truly owned the role, occasionally drawing her own special applause from the audience.
Of the adults, I'd have to say Lexie Dorsett Sharp as Rosalie was most impactful. Her performance in the first act, while fine enough, was nothing to her body language and vocals in the second act when her persona drops from austere schoolmistress to someone who loves rock and roll to the core.
A special shout-out to our friend Deidre Lang as Ms. Scheinkopf, whom we interviewed earlier. She may not have been a central figure in the plot, but every time she had a moment, she used it to show heaps of flair, humor, and sass. Her hard work at changing it up has paid off.
Whether intentional or not, the characters and the music finally came to life in the second act and made the show great fun. Its message of letting children speak their truth and discover who they are without being placed into their parents' boxes is worth the while.
When the Linklater 2003 movie, School of Rock, came out in theaters across the big screen, it did not win awards, just some lukewarm reviews and a decent showing at the box-office with a take of $131 million. However, that was enough to earn it official Broadway treatment with some serious A-lister team with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyricist Glenn Slater, and author Julian Fellowes.
SCHOOL OF ROCK is a musical about rebellion, the mantra of "sticking it to The Man", of children finding their voice in a controlled and advantaged setting and finding their courage to rise up.
The story of School of Rock by itself is queued up for some serious cheesiness, but the A-lister team was able to frame the musical in a way that made it casual, entertaining, and heartening. The musical certainly checks the boxes, but it lacked a certain amount of soul that would've made it memorable.
However, about a quarter of the way through, School of Rock came alive! The production really began to shine and found an pleasant rhythm when it handed the show off to its young stars. Much has been made of the standout Act I number, "You're in the Band," in which the students' particular skills are first revealed - and in this production, nicely directed by Laurence Connor, you see exactly why.
It's not exactly hard to be blown away by the kid's performances. Mystic Inscho, who can shred on guitar, Cameron Trueblood expertly keeps the beat, the charming Theo Mitchell-Penner, able to switch on a dime from Bach to Jon Lord. Grier Burke is charming as the shy one, Tomika, and Sami Bray showed us a buttered-up portrayal of Summer. All the while, Dewey (Merritt David Janes) successfully directs the kids around the stage, and choreographer, Joann Hunter was able to successful weave in dance routines easy enough to not overwhelm neither the kids, but still entertain the audience.
The sets are simply made, but are also good, down to the rock posters of Zeppelin and Hendrix in Dewey's bedroom. The costuming by Anna Louizos perfectly defined the action from the tight suits of Principal Mullins, Dewey's blasé sweaters, and the school's uniforms.
To get your chance to witness the immense talent that can come in a small package, be sure to purchase tickets now through February 3rd.