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BWW Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK is an easy roll at the Orpheum Theatre


School of Rock

His work on Jesus Christ Superstar notwithstanding, Andrew Lloyd Webber is not a name one regularly associates with rock 'n' roll or, for that matter, with the rather low comedy stylings of Jack Black. So it is a welcome surprise to report that School of Rock is a fleetingly affable evening. Composed by Lloyd Webber for lyrics by Glenn Slater (Sister Act) and a book by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), who is an equally surprising presence on this piece, the production offers no challenges or surprises, but clicks pleasantly through its tracks like rediscovered mix tape you don't remember making.

Credit for that good-humored reception goes partly to a shamelessly free-form performance by Rob Colletti standing in for Black, but mostly to its extremely poised and widely talented ensemble of young actors.

In a plot thumbnail, slacker Dewey (Colletti) is a perpetually aspiring rockstar, mooching off a friends Ned (the haplessly whipped Matt Bittner) and Patty (a cliché-shrill Elily Borromeo). When a split hits the fan over finances, Dewey impersonates Ned on a substitute teaching gig at a stuffy prep school run by Rosalie (Lexie Dorsett Sharp) to score some easy green. How hard could it be, he reasons?

Except for Colletti's commitment to wild abandon acting, all the adults in this piece - a bunch of grumpy ass-kissing teachers and neurotic, self-absorbed helicopter parents - are crafted with the precision of jackhammer. Even competent actors can only do so much and you can blame both Fellowes and director Laurence Connor for the absence of any real characters over teen age.

Fortunately, the kids are more than alright, earning an "A" for natural talent and a refreshingly unaffected stage presence. All of them - Theodora Silverman, Cameron Trueblood, Alyssa Emily Marvin, Carson Hodges, Grier Burke, Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton, Vincent Molden, Huxley Westemeier, Theo Mitchell-Penner, Lara Nemirovsky, Jack Suarez Kimmel, and Gabriella Uhl - deserve praise for showing us a class of very real kids with unique personalities, quirks, and foibles that never ring false as stagey kid stuff. They carry the heart of the show and redeem the dull material with a sweet humor, boundless energy, and bodacious musical chops - particularly those on solo instrumental duty - and smooth dance moves to choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter.

The score glides by and nothing really sticks except the rousing audition sequence "You're in the Band" and the infectious protest anthem "Stick It to the Man."

The night is full of familiar cul de sacs - stuffy headmistress with a secret, nerd struggles to please out-of-his-class girlfriend - and you don't need to know the film to get the jokes, which you can see coming.

The part that touches your heart is watching the kids look for love and approval and finding it within themselves and each other. In his popular youth-centric Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim wrote, "Careful the things you say. Children will listen." School of Rock turns that around with "If Only You Would Listen," suggesting that parents might do well to stop knowing it all and ask their children what they really need.

School of Rock
Rob Colletti rocks on with one of his students at School of Rock.

School of Rock runs through July 22 at the SHN Orpheum Theatre.

Photos by Matthew Murphy.

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