Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
School of Rock
In the touring production of Julian Fellowes, Glenn Slater and Andrew Lloyd Webber's School of Rock now on stage in the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, it is all about the kids. And what a group of kids it is.
As in the familiar 2003 film version, Dewey Finn (Gary Trainor) is one of those rock wannabes who had a moderately successful glam/rock/punk band (Maggot Death) in high school and college but the band broke up as the other members went on to live "normal" lives. Dewey still pursues his dreams as lead guitarist of a group he formed (No Vacancy). When his stage antics outshine the wispy leather-clad lead singer, the band kicks him out. The next day finds Dewey and his hangover being awoken by his longtime friend and bandmate from the "Death" days, Ned Schneebly (Layne Roate), and his domineering girlfriend Patty (Madison Micucci), who demands unpaid rent (an entirely foreign concept to Dewey). Dragging himself late to his soul crushing day job at the record store, he is fired from that job as well.
Returning to his lair, Dewey tries to sort out his life when the house phone rings. It is the prestigious Horace Green School offering Ned a substitute teacher position that pays more than $900 a week. Dewey impersonates Ned and takes the job. Arriving an hour late to the school the next day, Dewey finds that he is way out of his element. Horace Green is a preparatory school of the highest degree where parents pay $50,000 a year for their children to attend, with guarantees of high grades and admission to the top colleges in the country. Dewey is greeted by Miss Rosalie (Alison Cusano), who quickly lays down the law to Dewey (now Ned Schneebly) as she introduces him to his thirteen charges. It does not go well for the still hungover Dewey as the precocious Summer (Sami Bray) tries to tell Dewey how the class is conducted, and he recoils in horror that the children are subjected to such "cruelty."
Dewey begins matching instruments to the players of corresponding classical instruments. Acoustic guitar player Zack (Mystic Inscho) gets an all-white Flying V electric guitar. Cellist Katie (Leanne Parks) straps on the bass with all the attitude that comes with it. Master pianist Lawrence (Julian Brescia) trades his Baldwin Acrosonic for an electric keyboard, while virtuoso cymbal player Freddy (Cameron Trueblood) gets upgraded to a full set of drums. For his backup vocals, Dewey grabs Shonelle (Ariana Pereira) and Marcy (Gabriella Uhl) with Madison and Sophie (Isabella Rose Sky) taking on the job of roadies.
With the band formed, Dewey sets his sights on filling up the tech support jobs. Electrical wizard Mason (Dylan Trueblood) is tagged for stage lighting. James (Jacob Moran) gets the nod for head of security, while Billy (Sammy Dell) gleefully takes over in the band's costuming department. When future presidential candidate Summer gets upset, Dewey in a stroke of genius makes her the band's manager. Just one student is left, but Dewey is stuck as to what to do with shy Tomika (Camille De la Cruz)until he hears her sing.
Along with a seven-piece orchestra, everyone on stage who picks up, sits at, or stands behind an instrument is actually playing it and with plenty of attitude. Leanne Parks steals the show as she thrums the bass with the perfect face mask of rockism. Mystic Inscho literally tears it up on lead guitar. Julian Brescia finds his inner Gregg Allman as he commands the keyboards, and Cameron Trueblood keeps the place rocking with his drumming. Camille De La Cruz reveals an amazing singing voice that had the audience cheering her at mid-song.
Gary Trainor does a fantastic job playing Dewey with lots of physical humor, sharp one-liners, and a total disregard for society at large. He even slips in a reference of homage to Spinal Tap. Layne Roate does a great job as Ned, the hen-pecked boyfriend of his domineering girlfriend Patty, well-played by Madison Micucci. Alison Cusano as Miss Rosalie, the head of Horace Green, shows a dual personality as well as a great singing voice. The show features lots of energetic dancing, singing, and rock and roll as the kids really play their hearts out. The touring production is directed by Laurence Connor, who also directed the Broadway production.
Once more the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square plays host to a blockbuster Broadway hit that pulls out all the stops. This is a show that the entire family will love together. Be dazzled by the stage sets, costumes, dancing and music, but especially by the amazing talents of what is probably the world's youngest rock band. Rock on!
School of Rock, through March 24, 2019, at the Connor Palace, Playhouse Square, 1615 Euclid Ave., Cleveland OH. Tickets can be purchased online at www.playhousesquare.org, by phone by calling 216-241-6000 or by stopping by the Playhouse Square box office in the outer lobby of the State Theatre. For information on the tour, visit ustour.schoolofrockthemusical.com.