One of the songs in School of Rock, currently running at the Civic Theatre, is somewhat ironically titled “Where Did the Rock Go?” Fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber might have felt the same way about the composer before his latest hit opened on Broadway.
Following Webber’s and lyricist Tim Rice’s iconic collaboration, Jesus Christ Superstar, the composer increasingly focused on shows that veered away from this style of music. Webber’s 2015 score for School of Rock returns to rock music, particularly the music from the 1960’s-1980’s.
Based on the Richard Linklater/Jack Black comedy, the story features an immature unemployed rocker, Dewey (Rob Colletti), who wants to become a revered musician. He is currently living with his best friend, the substitute teacher Ned, (Matt Bittner) and Ned’s controlling girlfriend Patty (Emily Borromeo). Unfortunately, the two of them plan on kicking Dewey out if he can’t pay his rent.
Dewey decides to impersonate Ned and teach at the highly proper prep school Horace Green. When Dewey realizes that the students in his class are musically gifted, he convinces them that they should audition for the Battle of the Bands.
Julian Fellowes’ book is true to the hit film, without turning it into a dull copy. Memorable jokes are included, as well as new ones that play off of Dewey’s eccentric personality.
The plot is as much about the growth of the students as it is about Dewey evolving as a person. Fellowes’ most emotional and touching moments are when students such as the formal Zack (Vincent Molden), the timid Lawrence (Theo Mitchell-Penner) and the quiet, Tomika (Grier Burke) gain confidence and fully realize their potential as band members.
Music used in School of Rock ranges from new tunes by Webber and lyricist Glenn Slater, that primarily have a rebellious spirit, music written for the movie and a few other preexisting melodies. Webber, Slater and Fellowes make music that appear to be a natural complement to the different situations that occur in the show.
One particular song that mixes Webber’s composition with that of other artists in a very entertaining manner is “You’re in the Band,” which integrates Webber’s retro melody with references to bands and singers such as The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple and Lou Reed.
Reprises are used effectively to add to the narrative, with the exception of the song, “Faculty Quadrille,” where teachers sing about their thoughts on Dewey. Borrowing from earlier songs, “Horace Green Alma Mater” and “Here at Horace Green,” the lyrics don’t really progress the plot or help individualize the other staff members on campus. It’s the only tune where the pacing feels slow under Lawrence Connor’s direction.
Connor’s staging humorously plays off of Dewey’s devotion to rock and roll. Along with the behind-the-scenes artists such as lighting designer Natasha Katz, sound designer Mick Potter, and the orchestra led by music director/keyboardist Martyn Axe, Connor gives places such as Dewey’s home and Horace Green’s classroom the atmosphere of a summer concert.
Complementing Connor’s animated storytelling is the performance of Colletti, whose energetic style of acting and singing fits well with the role of Dewy. If Colletti is ever exhausted onstage, you’ll never be able to tell from his consistently upbeat performance.
Each of the young performers who play Dewey’s pupils are very talented and are in big sequences where they get to sing, act or play various instruments such the guitar, keyboard and drums. Molden, Mitchell-Penner, Burke, and Iara Nemirovsky as the band manager Summer Hathaway, behave like real kids, which gets the audience caring for their characters.
Other adult performers such as Bittner and Lexie Dorsett Sharp as Rosalie Mullins, the school principal, are likable in their scenes opposite Colletti. They also sing, with charisma, during songs such as “Children of Rock” and “Queen of the Night.”
Of the adult characters, the only role that isn’t well defined is that of Patty (an issue in the motion picture as well.). Outside of acting antagonistically towards Dewey, there really isn’t a whole lot to her character. That’s not the fault of Borromeo, who has some moments of strong comedic timing and sings well during “Mount Rock” (Reprise).
Funnier, and significantly less dramatic than most shows with music by Webber, School of Rock, with Dewey and his students, knows how to “teach rock to the world.” This live adaptation is a genuine crowdpleaser.