BWW Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK at Rise Above Performing Arts Rocks the House
It is always exciting when a new show comes to Sarasota. What is even better is when that show exceeds your expectations and provides you with an evening of pure entertainment. "School of Rock" produced by Rise Above Performing Arts is just that show.
Based on the film of the same name, "School of Rock" is the story of Dewey Finn, an unemployed, unmotivated, washed up musician who has always dreamed of making it big to no avail. His roommates, Ned and his girlfriend Patty demand the rent be paid or Dewey will now be homeless to go along with his other failures in his life. As a means to get the cash needed, Dewey poses as Ned and becomes a substitute teacher at Horace Green Prep, an elite private school. Dewey is assigned a class of 13 students who he learns have the gift of music and he devises a plan to form a Band with his students to fulfill his dream of becoming a Rock n' Roll Legend.
"School of Rock" with music by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Book by Julian Fellowes is currently in limited licensing by The Musical Company and the cast is required to be comprised of students 18 years of age and under. The majority of the principle characters are children anyways but there are several characters who are adults. It was amazing the skill with which this cohesive cast portrayed characters much older than them. You won't even give it a second thought.
The entire group of performers displayed incredible vocal strength. Under the musical direction of Joi Chapman, the power of these young voices and the beautiful harmonies they created rivaled any community production you will see this year. Of special note, Emily Mollin who plays Principal Rosalie Mullins and Julianne Teague who portrays Tomika come across as seasoned theatrical singers. From solos to ensemble numbers the music brings you to the edge of your seat as you watch the story unfold.
One true highlight is that the kids in the band play their own instruments. Maeva Ginsberg (Zach), Kylee Worth (Katie), Asher Woomert (Lawerence) and Cannon Barberio (Freddie) are electric as they turn their characters from classical musicians to Rock Band lore. All four make you ponder that maybe there is such a thing as a quadruple threat in musical theatre. Those four as well as the other students that form the band give stellar, energetic performances. They had so much fun in "Stick it to the Man" that the energy was off the charts. If any cast anywhere could match the energy level in that song it would make for a show you would never forget.
Anthony Lobo as Dewey Finn will just make you laugh. Despite displaying great comfort in intricate vocal ranges, Lobo has some fantastic comedic timing. There a few moments where I wish he would immerse himself a bit more in the character as Dewey Finn is eccentric all the time, however given the complexity of the role; Lobo does more than enough to keep you laughing out loud.
Emily Mollin is pinpoint perfect as Principal Rosalie Mullins. She navigates the multifaceted character with ease; portraying a woman who must be strong and cold while still showing the audience her desire to be accepted and loved. Her performance in "Where Did the Rock Go," along with the song's choreography designed by Rachael Johnson is a true rise to your feet moment. My guess is Emily Mollin is a name you will hear a lot of in the theatrical world for years to come.
The roles of Ned and Patty played by Cameron Cabral and Parker Mullet add many moments of fun and laughter. It's a shame that the characters roles on stage are so minimal. Both Cabral and Mullet have fantastic chemistry together. Cabral has a quiet demeanor as Ned, yet he gives us enough of a sneak peak into the man he used to be that we simply love his ending scene. Parker Mullet is a perfect combination of wit and charm with a voice to match. As with many young actors there can be a tendency to rush. These performers are all so talented that they need to always enjoy their time on the stage and remember that we came to see you!
Having seen "School of Rock" on Broadway, it was refreshing to watch a show where the Artistic Director wasn't afraid to deviate from the status quo without altering the traditional storyline. Directors have so many creative choices and the ones you will see in this show offer you a fresh perspective even if you think you know what to expect.
"School of Rock" is high energy and it is LOUD as all Rock n' Roll should be. The passion and talent displayed on that stage gives you a huge smile when you think of the future of musical theatre in our community. These performers are true Rock Stars and their performance is on par with the high-quality musicals Sarasota is known for and now it is known for "School of Rock!"
"School of Rock" runs through September 15. Tickets and more information can be found at www.riseabovearts.com
Photo Credit: Bonnie Telinger