Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
School of Rock - The Musical tells the story of Dewey Finn, an out-of-work rocker who steals his friend's identity to become a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school and earn some much needed money. Dewey eventually learns that his fifth-grade class has musical ability and forms a band to help him win a Battle of the Bands contest.
Andrew Lloyd Webber hasn't had a new Broadway hit in over twenty years. His music for School of Rock is sometimes reminiscent of his other scores (Whistle Down the Wind, Song and Dance) and is a good fit for the material. The show wisely keeps a few numbers from the film (including "In the End of Time," "School of Rock"), but also adds twelve songs by Webber (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics), including performance songs, introspective musical theater showtunes, and several playful numbers as Dewey forms and trains the young band. The best new songs are "You're in the Band," "Stick It To the Man," and "If Only You Would Listen" (a poignant song sung by the kids, first to their parents and then to Dewey). Mr. Slater's lyrics aren't going to challenge Stephen Sondheim for wit or turn-of-phrase, but they do fit the songs well and are appropriate to the characters and moment.
The book by Julian Fellowes generally stays close to the original screenplay, but does spend additional time focusing on the children, which provides more fleshed-out characters and more appealing moments overall. The story is fairly predictable, even without knowledge of the film, but has plenty of effective comedic moments, sufficient heart, and theatrical pizazz. On press night, a lot of parents brought small children, but audiences should be aware that the show does contain its fair share of bad language and sexual references.
The national tour cast is a strong one. Rob Colletti (Dewey) captures the bumbling loser attitude of the main character, and sings the many rock numbers with theatrical flair. He receives many laughs along the way as well, but isn't always the clearest enunciator of lyrics (which is probably hindered by the rock arrangements). Lexie Dorsett Sharp did fine work in college locally at CCM, and is magnificent as Rosalie. Her singing is crystal clear and lovely, and she captures both the uptight mannerisms of her school principal character and the warmth and fun of someone trying to recapture her youth.
As good as those two leading adults are, as well as the other grown-ups in supporting and ensemble roles, it's the young performers who really get to shine in this piece. The kid actors portraying the students who play the rock instruments are really playing them, and they are adorable and multi-talented. Among them are Ava Briglia (Summer), Tommy Ragen (Zack), Theo Mitchell-Penner (Lawrence), Gianna Harris (Tomika), Theodora Silverman (Katie), Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton (Freddy), and John Michael Pitera ((Billy).
Director Laurence Connor provides smooth transitions and an apt tone throughout. The choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter is fun for the kids and more movement than traditional dance. The pit band led by Martyn Axe sounds great, but a bit too loud at times, making it a challenge to understand the lyrics that the actors are singing.
Scenic designer Anna Louizos provides functional and varied sets, as well as the show's costumes, which include both the formal school attire and Dewey's sloppy, unpolished look. The lighting by Natasha Katz runs the gambit from blinding rock concert glitz to subtle effects for the prep school setting.
School of Rock - The Musical isn't sophisticated in any way, and doesn't have the levels of depth of many other recent successful shows. Still, it's a slickly created musical which is fun and shows off a unique and talented cast. Surely there's room for that still on Broadway and beyond. For fans who need more Andrew Lloyd Webber rock musicals, also be sure to check out Jesus Christ Superstar currently playing at CCM.
School of Rock - The Musical, through March 4, 2018, at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati OH. Visit https://www.cincinnatiarts.org/aronoff-center or call 800-294-1816 for ticket information. For more information on the tour, visit ustour.schoolofrockthemusical.com .