BWW Review: Thoroughly Delightful SCHOOL OF ROCK at PPAC
The story of SCHOOL OF ROCK is a fairly simple one-- a somewhat aimless manchild gets a job substitute teaching, and because he doesn't really know how to actually teach subjects like math and science, he instead focuses on teaching the students how to play rock instruments so they can compete in the Battle of the Bands. What really makes this work as a stage musical is that in adapting it from the screen version, book writer Julian Fellowes didn't change too much. The story follows the film pretty exactly, and the ending is 100% predictable, and that's a very good thing. This show is all about the musical skills of some incredibly talented young performers, and that is more than enough.
Dewey Finn (Merritt David Janes), is a loveable loser who is running out of opportunities. He gets kicked out the band he co-founded, and then the friend he's staying with says he needs to actually pay some rent, or get out. Faced with potential homelessness, Dewey does the next most logical thing, he gets a phone call offering his roommate Ned a substitute teaching position at a prestigious private school, and then goes to that school claiming to be Ned. After meeting his students, and seeing that many of them already play some musical instruments, he realizes that he can train them in the art of rock, and beat his former bandmates in the upcoming Battle of the Bands.
All of the students in this show are played by actors ages 10-13, and not only do they all play their instruments live in every performance, but they sing and dance incredibly well too. The level of talent among this group is nothing short of astonishing, and the energy of this show is non-stop and infectious. Mystic Inscho as Zach, plays a guitar that's almost bigger than he is, but with a skill of someone twice his age. Leanne Parks as Katie dominates the bass guitar, while also giving great "bass face", Cameron Trueblood as Freddy is an exceptional drummer, and Julian Brescia as Lawrence on the keys is a skilled pianist with some great comic timing. As far a the younger cast members, there isn't a single weak link, and the performances across the board have a sincerity that is incredibly refreshing. Child actors can sometimes seem a bit robotic, but that is not the case at all with this group.
The only real hiccups are with some of the adult characters, in particular Dewey. Janes is a charming actor with a great voice, but instead of playing Dewey as his own character, he basically just does an impression of Jack Black from the movie. There's no way to know who's choice that was, but it's pretty frustrating and a bit insulting to the audience. Lexie Dorset Sharp as Rosalie Mullins, the school principal, has a remarkable vocal range, and does a great job portraying both the stern administrator and also later letting her hair down a bit.
This is a show that's just fun to watch. Thankfully, in adapting it, they didn't load it up with tragic backstory or complicated narratives that aren't necessary. In keeping the story pretty basic, the audience gets to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
SCHOOL OF ROCK is at Providence Performing Arts Center through March 3. Tickets are available at ppacri.org or by calling (401) 421 - ARTS (2787).
Photo by Evan Zimmerman