Review: The Kids Kill It in SCHOOL OF ROCK at SKYLIGHT

An upbeat musical, hilarious and heartwarming

By: Nov. 21, 2023
Review: The Kids Kill It in SCHOOL OF ROCK at SKYLIGHT

School of Rock at Skylight Music Theatre is a super-fun musical that will take you straight to the top of Mount Rock. Based on the 2003 movie starring Jack Black, the stage show debuted in 2015. It’s written by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater.

School of Rock is about a deadbeat wannabe rockstar, Dewey Finn, who poses as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school to make a quick buck. He knows squat about teaching — but forming a killer rock band with a bunch of musically-inclined middle-schoolers? “Chell-o!”

Lots of millennials have a soft spot for the source material, particularly Jack Black. Being one such millennial, any iteration of this story and its characters is going to be under heavy scrutiny. I’m thrilled to report that this Skylight production delivers a stellar cast of characters, including 16 local kids ages 9 to 15. The show truly starts to hit its stride once the students start singing their “Horace Green Alma Mater.”

The student rock band plays live on stage with Elias Totleben (11) on lead guitar, Malia Brunner (10) on keyboard, Annalise Nordstrom (10) on bass, and Azure Schroeder (14) on drums. It’s impossible to keep from grinning and bopping during “You’re In the Band.” Leading the way in youth vocals is Kyla Anderson (14) whose “Amazing Grace” and “If Only You Would Listen (Reprise)” will leave you misty-eyed. As Summer, the smarty-pants band manager, Emilia Kosek (10) commands the stage and rattles off one heck of a fast-taking tune with Act Two opener “Time To Play.” 

Put them all together with the spunky, sweet-voiced ensemble and you’ve got one impressive youth cast. Hats off to the show’s director, Michael Unger, for undoubtedly coaching these kids and molding their singular talents into something collectively outstanding.

Bolstering the young performers are, of course, the seasoned ones. First up is Joey Sanzaro making his Skylight debut as Dewey Finn. Sanzaro brings incredible vocal range, hilarious delivery, and (frankly) the Jack Black energy that Dewey requires (see: “In The End of Time”). He’s top tier — funny from start to finish, with a dash of heartstring-tugging to boot.

Then there’s Principal Mullins played to perfection by Skylight favorite Stephanie Staszak. While the film version portrays Ms. Mullins as aloof and dorky, the musical gives her a more proper, polished air. It’s “no running in the halls!” plus a fondness for opera, which Staszak delivers to sheer delight. Her voice is splendid and her demeanor, charming. When she taps into Ms. Mullins’ love of Stevie Nicks over drinks with Dewey, Staszak proves she’s also a hoot.

Rounding out the main cast are Jake Horstmeier as Ned Schneebly and Jackey Boelkow as Patty — characters who are a pushover and a buzzkill, respectively. Horstmeier and Boelkow are great, as are the rest of the adult ensemble. The “Faculty Quadrille” in the teachers lounge is a fun little number.

All of these fantastic people are buoyed further by punchy choreography (Tori Watson), amusing costumes (Patricia Hibbert), efficient set design (Lindsay Fuori), and rock-n-roll lighting (Zach Pizza). There’s also a live pit orchestra under the direction of David Bonofiglio. 

On the whole, Skylight takes an upbeat rock musical with catchy songs and makes it Milwaukee’s own thanks to the brilliant talent on stage and behind the scenes. School of Rock is hilarious, heartwarming, and tailor-made for families with slightly-older kids (and fans of the film). It’s proof that “people in bands are cool” — but perhaps people who see shows about people in bands are even cooler. Catch Skylight’s School of Rock through December 30th.

Photo Credit: Mark Frohna