Theater Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK THE MUSICAL (National Tour at the Hollywood Pantages)

by Samuel Garza Bernstein on May 4, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional,Tours

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KIDS RULE IN ENERGETIC ROCK

There is an announcement before the start of School of Rock The Musical. After the expected exhortations against using electronic devices, we are assured that yes, indeed, the children are playing their own instruments live on stage. Cluing us in is smart, because once those kids get a chance to rock out, the show comes alive, and they own the joint. Knowing they are accomplished musicians seals the deal. The happy surprise is how simply and organically many of the child performers go about their work, with very few Dainty Junes among them.

The musical is adapted from the 2003 movie written by Mike White, directed by Richard Linklater, and starring Jack Black as Dewey, a fake substitute teacher who forms a band with an unlikely mix of nominally repressed students to win a “Battle of the Bands.” Black’s mannerisms and timing have clearly influenced Rob Colletti’s high-energy performance here, but while Dewey is indisputably the lead role, one deadpan look from young actress and bassist Theodora Silverman puts the audience on notice: This is a show where kids rule.

As the lead guitarist with father issues, Vincent Molden stalks the stage with the ease and flair of a seasoned pro. He’s riveting. Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton on drums, Olivia Bucknor and Alyssa Emily Marvin on backup vocals, and Grier Burke emerging in the second act as a lead vocalist also have some wonderful moments. Perhaps the sweetest of the lot is Theo Mitchell-Penner on keyboard, as the lumpy uncool kid who thrives by flirting with a new glam-rock persona.

Standouts among non-musical members of the band include Huxley Westemeier as a campy stylist and Iara Nemirovsky as the frighteningly confident, over-achieving band manager. It’s fun watching these over-privileged, over-scheduled prep school kids, “Stick It to the Man” — a catchy song replayed a few times, where they rail against parents who never listen and bossy adults in general.

The emotional distance they feel from their parents may not be as deeply motivated or as subversive as the underpinnings of Matilda, but there are some funny/sad moments that satisfy. Westemeir provides one of the more genuine notes in the show, with a throwaway line about feeling sad when his mother gets Botox, because he cannot tell if she is happy anymore. Something about his honest delivery followed by Colletti’s stunned pause gives the moment a poignancy that transcends the quip-inducing laugh. Maybe these children really do have problems.

Somewhat inexplicably, book and music come from two members of the British House of Lords: Sirs Andrew Lloyd Webber and Julian Fellowes. Both have been quoted as thoroughly enjoying their foray into the world of fifth-graders, and their work here is youthful and energizing — if not entirely rooted in the second decade of the 21st century. Most ten- and eleven-year-olds I’ve come across seem incapable of putting down their phones and tablets long enough to play an instrument.

Glenn Slater is an accomplished lyricist with multiple Disney and Lloyd Weber stage credits. The rock songs land, but some of the ballads are a bit on the nose for me, with kids singing exactly what they think and feel, particularly in “If Only You Would Listen.” Their language does not reflect the random, often contrary, and confusing ways children process and communicate their emotions and experiences.

A romance storyline plays second fiddle. Dewey falls for Rosalie, the school’s supposedly uptight headmistress. In what could be a fairly “Marian the Librarian” turn, Lexie Dorsett Sharp brings warmth and humor to the role of a straight-laced woman with the soul of a rock chick. She is always in on the joke, having so much fun with a short bit of operatic trilling in the first act, that I couldn’t wait for her to sing again. Her big number in the second act, “Where Did the Rock Go?” brings down the house, mainly I think, because we are invested in Sharp — a musical theater powerhouse.

The adult ensemble also does some fine work — getting the most out of playing affable teachers and snooty parents. Like Sharp, they are always in on the joke, and I would have loved to have seen more from the inestimable Deidre Lang as a teacher who has seen it all, and Jameson Moss and Tim Shea as same-sex parents who try too hard.

In real life, Dewey is the kind of guy who can be fun but is mostly insufferable — the unfunny comedian without an off-switch, where everything is about him and every interaction is about domination.

Rob Colletti is a terrific singer with a large range who shines whether singing rock or more traditional musical theater songs. And he has energy to spare. He struts, cartwheels (sort of), jumps, and spins like a jet-propelled wind-up toy. Yet there is a line between what is funny and what is overbearing, and at times, Colletti steps over that line.

His performance takes a happy turn late in the second act, though, when the plot calls for Dewey to put the kids first. Colletti grows tender and expansive. We get room to breathe, to take in the wonder of these kids. As Dewey would put it, “Dude, they’re freakin’ awesome!”

photos by Matthew Murphy

School of Rock The Musical
national tour
at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre until May 27, 2018
for tickets, call 800-982-2787
or visit Hollywood Pantages Theatre
tour continues through 2018
for dates and cities, visit School of Rock The Musical

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