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Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK at Omaha Community Playhouse

Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK at Omaha Community Playhouse

Buy your ticket to rock soon, as this is sure to be a sell-out!

School is in session and this cast is ready to rock! The Omaha Community Playhouse has another hit on their hands with their latest main stage production; Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation of School of Rock. And before you ask, yes. I am referring to THAT Andrew Lloyd Webber. The one responsible for Phantom of the Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar. Featuring a book by Julian Fellowes, lyrics by longtime Webber collaborator Glenn Slater, and based on the Paramount movie by Mike White, the musical beautifully translates from screen to stage and is sure to leave a beat in your step and a smile on your face.

Director Stephen Santa has assembled a talented ensemble, both on and off the stage, to bring this story to life. Jim Boggess and the talented musicians he leads in the pit keep the show moving at a rockin' pace. Melanie Walters brings refreshing and fun choreography to a show that doesn't necessarily have or need big dance numbers. However, her choreography truly enhances the show and the performances and is a true joy to watch. Lindsay Pape finds ways to pay homage to the film while still allowing her costumes to stand on their own. Steven L. Williams brings so much creativity and character to the stage through his design and use of the space. Large rotating speakers and what appears to be part of an amp frame the stage and set the tone immediately as the audience files in before the show and are a true highlight of this production.

Leading the way in the role of Dewey Finn, a part made iconic by the one and only Jack Black in the smash hit film of the same name, is Thomas Gjere. Gjere is no stranger to the Omaha Community Playhouse stage and has become a solid choice for leading roles in recent seasons. He tackles this high energy role head on with all the charm and charisma of a rock band frontman, and I believe you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the audience who isn't impressed with his dedication and energy level show after show. Andrew Lloyd Webber did no favors for the actors cast as Dewey in this musical when writing this acrobatic and very high vocal part, but Gjere doesn't shy away and gives it has all.

Lauren Krupski is a delight as principal Rosalie Mullins, a woman who is more than meets the eye when given a second look and the opportunity to truly be herself. Her interactions with Gjere provide for some wonderful comedic moments, and her beautiful soprano during Queen of the Night produces audible oohs and ahh from the audience. Vocally she is the most consistent in the show, and I won't be surprised to see her frequenting the Omaha Community Playhouse stage more often after this production.

Other solid supporting performances are given by Elizabeth Avery and Jonathan Berger, who play Patty and Ned respectively. Both performers turn out more great comedic moments in their interactions with their frustrating roommate, Dewey Finn, and each has a chance to showcase their own vocal abilities to support their acting choices. And they aren't alone. The adult ensemble is strong and they provide solid harmonies and storytelling in roles that range from rockstars to teachers to parents.

This show would not be possible without a cast of incredibly talented young performers, who not only have to sing, act and dance, but a few also have the daunting task of playing their musical instruments live. Santa hit the jackpot with this group. They truly are the rockstars of this show. A well-deserved standing ovation to them all, but a special shout out to the students singing and playing in the band. There were many comments from audience members questioning if the students were actually playing live, which is a testament to their talent and skill level.

I found myself struggling to understand some lines at Thursday evenings preview performance. Diction is a challenge in any show, but with a show that moves at this speed it is even more important. However, if there is one true point of concern it would be regarding vocal health in a show that is just one in a season of brilliant and vocally challenging productions in the area. While there will always be vocal inconsistencies stemming from what is sure to be a long week of tech and dress rehearsals, and without even going down the changing season and allergy peak road, I do wonder if it would be wise for theaters in the area to consider having a vocal consultant to help the cast maintain vocal health during these long and demanding productions. The vocal demands on performers in modern musicals have been steadily increasing, and without the proper technique and guidance, performers run the risk of damaging their instrument and jeopardizing their performance.

Even with some slight vocal or diction issues, this was easily the most fun I've had at a community production in some time. The set is stellar. The cast is top notch. And that band is rockin'. If you are looking for a family friendly show that is full of talent, fun and heart, School of Rock is for you.

Photo Credit: Robertson Photography

From This Author - Analisa Swerczek

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