Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of West Side Story
The story is a typical "fish out of water" tale of broke man-child Dewey Finn who, after being kicked out of his band and told he needs to move out by his roommate's girlfriend since he is so far behind in his rent, pretends to be his roommate in order to secure a substitute teaching job to make some quick cash. The fact that he has no experience teaching doesn't thwart Dewey until he is faced with the reality of parent teacher meetings and the ongoing presence of the uptight school principal Rosalie Mullins. When he discovers that the kids in his class have some keen musical abilities, he latches onto the idea to enter them in an upcoming battle of the bands competition. In doing so, he makes the kids and their parents realize that, when dealing with the pressures and responsibilities of school, a face-melting guitar riff and a head-banging tune can make everything seem just fine.
Bookwriter Julian Fellowes (of "Downton Abbey" fame) sticks close to Mike White's quirky and offbeat screenplay while Lloyd Webber and lyricist Glenn Slater incorporate several toe-tapping numbers and a couple of introspective tunes while steering clear of any bombastic, over the top ballads. You can see how it will end a mile away, but with hints of The Music Man and some introspective moments added to the feelings and frustrations of the young classmates, this is a crowd pleasing show full of humor and heart.
The Spotlight cast is quite good. Devon Policci makes a sympathetic and appealing Dewey. His performance is full of outrageous gestures and wacky line deliveries that get some big laughs, but he is also charming, sincere, and quite endearing in his interactions with the younger kids in the cast. Addison Bowman is appropriately authoritative and strong as Rosalie who finds her hard-shell exterior softening from the combination of Dewey, some alcohol, and a Stevie Nicks tune. Bowman's strong singing voice excels on her songs.
Several of the kids playing the students in Dewey's classroom are talented musicians and seeing them play live and rocking out on stage adds a sense of joy to the production. Kai Jinn and Katie Calderone deliver some impressive guitar licks while Matt Huisman and Kiera Crouch go to town on the drums and keyboards. Also, Phoenix Cyphert nails the part of Summer, the uptight girl who strives for as many gold stars as she can get, while Kialani Mills is impressive, with a soaring voice, as the girl who is so stressed out that she can barely speak. Ian Gray gets some big laughs as Billy, the classmate who would rather read Vogue than Sports Illustrated and who has a thing for Barbra Streisand, and Jeremy Bassham, as Dewey's friend Ned, successfully gets across the young man who is stuck between having a real job yet still pining to be a rock star.
Director Kenny Grossman does impressive work, especially with such a large cast and a show that has dozens of scenes set in multiple locations. He gets layered performances from his cast and skillfully uses the imaginative and impressive set design by Bobby Sample, Mike Armstrong, and Clancy DeGroodt to quickly move the show along. When a set change is a prolonged one, Grossman stages a scene on the side of the stage or on the floor in front of the audience so the show seems to never stop. Lynzee 4Man's choreography is fun and varied, while Mark 4Man's music direction nicely balances the vocals of the cast with the prerecorded tracks and live on-stage playing by the talented cast members. A couple of the cast members may not have the greatest singing voices, but that doesn't detract from the overall experience of witnessing their musical playing abilities and seeing their talent on display. Audrey Wawro's costumes work well for the private school uniforms and the rock band attire, while Spencer Claus' hair and make-up designs deliver plenty of fun looks, especially in the second act.
While School of Rock may not be all that original and the ending isn't hard to figure out, Spotlight Youth Theatre's production is funny, engaging, and a true crowd pleasing show.
Spotlight Youth Theatre's production of School of Rock runs through April 23rd, 2017, with performances at 10620 N 43rd Avenue in Glendale AZ. Tickets and information can be found at www.spotlightyouththeatre.org or by calling 602-843-8318.
Director: Kenny Grossman