Being the audiophile I am, movies with deep roots in classic music move to the front of the line. Flicks like Almost Famous, Saturday Night Fever, and The Commitments are all among my desert island movies. School of Rock, the 2003 musical comedy starring Jack Black, tops that astute list thanks to both the music and Black’s performance, which were outstanding.
In 2015, composer Andrew Lloyd Weber, lyricist Glenn Slater, and Julian Fellowes took on the daunting challenge of making this movie into a Broadway success. I say daunting task seeing how this conversion rarely works, but I was hopeful this attempt would break the mold, seeing how the story and music focused on the joy genuine music brings to the masses.
The story of School of Rock follows the movie plot for the most part while adding a few fleshed-out storylines to add some spice. Dewey Finn (Rob Colletti) gets kicked out of his band and through a series of fortunate events takes the place of his brother Ned (Matt Bittner) as a substitute teacher at a snooty private school called Horace Green. Greeted by the school’s principal, Rosalie (Lexie Dorsett Sharp), Dewey is introduced to his class, for which he is ill-equipped.
He overhears them in music class and realizes he can make a band of the youngsters to enter the annual “Battle of the Bands” contest. Through a series of twists and turns, the class eventually embraces the idea and become quite the mighty musical force. Under the controlling eye of Rosalie, Dewey has to have band practice while convincing the principal he is keeping up with the school’s curriculum. The story culminates as the children risk it all by performing in the contest as they embrace the “stick it to the man” attitude Dewey instills in each of them.
While Fellowes kept close to the movie’s plot, he also explored Rosalie’s role as well as the relationships of the children and their parents. Lloyd Weber and Slater did a decent job in filling the production with their arsenal of songs, but as Lloyd Weber usually does, the songs were mostly musical conversations. There were a few highlights such as “Stick It To The Man,” where Dewey and the students fully embraced the anarchy of rock and roll, and “Where Did The Rock Go?”, which allowed Dewey and Rosalie to have a tangible emotional moment. But along with the rest of the songs, the show’s centerpiece, “School of Rock,” seemed forced and too rehearsed.
Colletti, as Dewey, gave a decent performance. It wasn’t bad, but it was lacking something. His delivery was more focused on the comedic aspect of the role rather than the passion for music. His vocal delivery was what I was expecting, but his overall presence was underwhelming. Specifically, during the big finale number of “School of Rock,” Colletti stood front and center and recited the song, stiffly. There was no passion, no showmanship, he just stood there and got through the music—it was a flat note to an otherwise very funny performance.
Conversely, Dorsett Sharp took her role of Rosalie and took it to the next level. Not only was her presence felt all the way in the upper balcony, this talented actress knows how to land a joke. Her vocal performance during “Where Did The Rock Go?” was nothing short of theatrical brilliance.
The real stars of the show were the children. Yes, they actually played their instruments, and each of their children could act and sing—in some cases, even better than their adult counterparts. Watch out, Millennial actors, these kids of coming for your jobs, and they have the skills to and the charisma to give you a run for your money.
I was very impressed with the overwhelming number of children in the audience. It warmed my heart to see yet another younger generation embrace the theater. By the looks of excitement on their faces at intermission, it looks like musical theatre will be alive and well for decades to come.
While School of Rock hit some high notes with a few outstanding musical performances, the overall production seemed like it needs to be a bit more tuned. While the children’s performances were outstanding, the role of Dewey needs to be turned up to 11. Unfortunately, School of Rock makes the same mistake other movies turned into musicals make: the audience is already built in—now entertain us. │ Jim Ryan
The School of Rock plays The Fabulous Fox Theatre through January 28th. For show times and ticket prices, please visit www.fabulousfox.com.