BWW Review: Kids Rock SCHOOL OF ROCK!
My engines needed some time to warm up to SCHOOL OF ROCK, but once a dynamic dozen of hip kids took the stage, all cylinders kicked in, and I was grooving along with the roaring crowd of 3000 at ASU's Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium.
Let us have no pretenses about SOR's story line. It's thin...but inspiring. A rock version of all the uplifting stage and screen narratives about teachers who mine their students' potential. Lightweight...but charming. Uncomplicated...but great fun. And, definitely, a riproaring ride, thanks to the vision and music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
In the musical version of the 2003 film that featured Jack Black, Merritt David Janes plays the role of Dewey Finn, the prototypical freeloader-slash-loser who gets kicked off the band he started, steals his friend's identity to pose as a substitute teacher at a highfalutin private school, and becomes a rock and roll Moses, leading a class of fifth graders to the Promised Land of Jimi Hendrix and AC/DC...and to stickin' it to the man. It's rebellion on bass guitar steroids!
Janes is no Jack Black, and that is a very good thing. He makes the role his own, evolving the character from a shiftless moocher to a lovable preacher of rock and bringing us along his journey to meaning and purpose. His religion is rock and his redemption lies in the conversion of young and fertile minds to the genre's soul and anthems. Bless his soul!
Dewey meets his match (in more ways than one) in the school's tight-assed principal, Rosalie, played with supreme poise by Lexie Dorsett Sharp with an air somewhere between Our Miss Brooks and Edward R. Rooney. When Sharp unloads in Where Did the Rock Go?, it's a show-stopping moment that reveals Rosalie's inner Stevie Nicks.
When all is sung and done, though, it's the kids that make the musical a trip! As Dewey moves them out of their shells and readies them for the Battle of the Bands, explosions of talent shake the stage. Fists are up, hands are clapping, jaws are dropping as Iara Nemirovsky plays Summer, the sassy, no nonsense, in-Dewey's face, band manager; Theodora Silverman (Katie) slays the bass guitar; Vincent Molden ran away with lead guitar; Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton (Freddy) shred the drums; Theo Mitchell-Penner (Lawrence) floated along the keyboards; and Grier Burke (Tomika) emerges from shyness to reveal a powerhouse amazing-grace voice.
The live music on stage is perfectly balanced by Martyn Axe's flawless direction of the orchestra in the pit.
For a rockin' fine way to greet the onset of Summer, SCHOOL OF ROCK fits the bill, running through June 24th at ASU Gammage in Tempe, AZ. The next stop for the National Tour: San Francisco.
Photo credit Matthew Murphy