BWW Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK at SHEA'S BUFFALO Theatre
Andrew Lloyd Webber has become a household name and he is having a resurgence in popularity of late. His 1970 JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR garnered great accolades this past Sunday in it's TV presentation. Buffalo audiences will have no less than 4 of his works to see in the next year in the Shea's Buffalo Broadway Seasons with PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, LOVE NEVER DIES, and CATS all in the lineup. But his latest musical to hit Broadway is SCHOOL OF ROCK and the slick new touring production is in town for the week.
In what could be called a modern day SOUND OF MUSIC, we meet a down trodden would-be rock musician, who through some comical mixups becomes a substitute teacher in a well to do private grade school. Knowing nothing but music, his class of children from affluent families soon learn of their inner musical abilities that have been thwarted by over bearing parents and school teachers. They must march with military precision and behave like automatons to achieve scholastic perfection.
Lord Webber has returned to his roots in rock and roll that he honed so well for SUPERSTAR and JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT. His score for SCHOOL OF ROCK obviously is grounded in rock, but it is not always up to the caliber of his previous works. Webber at times inundates the score with loud or very loud rock riffs, blaring electric guitars and pulsing bass. Some variation in the sound would have been appreciated, especially for the kids who inherently are a little harder to understand when belting rock lyrics at the top of their voices. Lyrics by Glenn Slater often sounded a bit stodgy, especially coming from the mouths of ten year olds. The book by Julian Fellowes, best known as the writer of "Downtown Abbey" and "Gosford Park," is slow to start but by the second act is quick and comical. Director Laurence Connor and Choreographer Joann Hunter move the production along swiftly and imbue the kids with a hyperactive energy that only children of a certain age can maintain.
The cast is all top notch, led by the affable Rob Colletti as Dewey, the substitute teacher. Colletti is instantly likable due to a great inherent sense of humor and slovenly appearance. Recently kicked out a rock band, he attempts to teach his class all he knows, which is rock and roll. Mr. Colletti is endearing and down right hysterical at times as he brings out each child's inner talent and ultimately their own personalities. He knows how to sell a rock song with that screaming belt that one associates with the likes of Mick Jagger or Gene Simmons. The highlight of the rather slow first act comes in the "You're in the Band" number where each child blossoms with the excitement of joining a band ( anyone recall THE MUSIC MAN?)
An excellent foil to Dewey is the uptight principal Rosalie, played with prissy pinpoint accuracy by Lexie Dorsett Sharp. In a moment of inspiration, Webber has melded the Queen of the Night's aria from the Mozart's The Magic Flute into a rock number for Rosalie. Ms. Dorsett Sharp handles the coloratura with ease and comedy at the same time. Webber lightens the rock motif slightly with a lovely power ballad for Rosalie, "Where Did The Rock Go?"
The star of this production is the large ensemble of children. A prerecorded announcement from Andrew Lloyd Webber himself informs the audience that yes indeed, each child does play their own instruments on stage. These kids are all super multi-talented and have such infectious energy that you can't help but root for them. But their chance of winning a band competition may be spoiled when their parents overtake the school for parent conferences and their teacher is exposed as a fraud. Here the poignancy of the story allows each child's inner story to be exposed to their tough as nails parents by Dewey.
Scenic and Costume designs by Anna Louizos work effortlessly and are expertly lit by the brilliant lighting designer Natasha Katz. Ms. Katz takes full advantage of the opportunities to meld the lighting of a traditional Broadway musical with showy rock concert effects.
The finale ends well for all involved and includes the requisite rock concert that everyone craves as the company sings "School of Rock" and the more memorable "Stick It to the Man." SCHOOL OF ROCK is packed with lots of heart and heaps of humor. The audience was along for the ride and by the end everyone was won over by the power of music in everyone's lives--- specifically in this case, ROCK.
SCHOOL OF ROCK runs through Sunday April 8, 2018 at Shea's Buffalo Theatre. Contact sheas.org for more information.