Washed up wannabe rockstar Dewey Finn and his ragtag band of lovable prep school students have arrived in Chicago for a rocking good time. SCHOOL OF ROCK is a faithful and fun-loving adaptation of the 2003 film that starred Jack Black as a “lovable loser” who poses as a substitute teacher and turns his timid class into a band of talented, self-assured rockers. With a score by musical theater icon Andrew Lloyd Weber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a book by Julian Fellowes, SCHOOL OF ROCK captures the frenetic energy and most of the tongue-in-cheek sass that characterized the original film.
Musicals like SCHOOL OF ROCK can be difficult to pull off because they rely so heavily on a number of young actors to succeed. Fortunately the students at Horace Green Preparatory and in Dewey’s class (helmed by Chicago-area native Rob Colletti in the lead role) are up to the challenge and far surpass all expectations. These spirited young performers demonstrate immense ensemble work here and carry out JoAnn M. Hunter’s bouncy choreography with ease and ceaseless energy. Under the direction of Laurence Connor, they conduct themselves as consummate theater professionals but also nail the emotional requirements of their characters. And they can sing and harmonize like nobody’s business.
As the new girl in school Tomika, Gianna Harris practically blows the roof off of the Cadillac Palace Theatre with her stunning delivery of “Amazing Grace.” As smarty pants Summer, Ava Biglia nails her character’s signature sass and determination. Theodora Silverman charms as Katie and plays the bass incredibly well. I could highlight memorable moments for each of the young actors onstage. Rob Colletti is also well-cast in the role of Dewey. He’s not afraid to embrace his character’s obnoxious side—especially in the earlier moments of the show—but he also make us sympathize with Dewey almost immediately.
The show’s songs can be uneven in places. The high energy numbers work the best, and the show includes a few too many dramatic ballads that don’t exactly fit the tone. But when SCHOOL OF ROCK works, it really works. Dewey’s signature line “Stick It To The Man” becomes an oft-repeated musical theme throughout the show, and that delightfully captures the carefree spirit on display. Fans of the original film will be glad to know that the songs from the show are also intact. Dewey’s original song “In The End of Time” becomes quite the spectacle here, and SCHOOL OF ROCK successfully capitalizes on all the nostalgic moments and clever dialogue lines of its source material.
The ballads, on the other hand, seem too frequent and out of place. Dewey’s establishing solo “The Top of Mount Rock” feels too wistful and introspective for his character’s slacker personality, though Colletti embraces its emotional potential fully regardless. Principal Rosalie Mullins’ solo “Where Did The Rock Go?” feels too maudlin but does allow Lexie Dorsett Sharp to show off her formidable vocal abilities.
Overall SCHOOL OF ROCK succeeds when it leans into the fun and captures the unique energy of the source material and amplifies that with the musical numbers. As this is the first national tour, the production is also quite the spectacle. Few expenses have been spared on Anna Louizo’s delightful sets and costumes, Natasha Katz’s concert-style lighting, and Mick Potter’s rich sound design. If you loved the film and you’re looking for a night at the theater that’s pure energy and excitement with some rising young talents, rock on at SCHOOL OF ROCK.
SCHOOL OF ROCK plays Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre through November 19. Visit BroadwayInChicago.com for more information.
Photo by Matthew Murphy