Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Annie
The story follows broke man-child Dewey Finn who, after being kicked out of his band and being so far behind in his rent that he's told he needs to move out by his roommate's girlfriend, pretends to be his roommate in order to secure a paying substitute teaching job to make some quick cash. The fact that he has no experience teaching doesn't seem to be a concern to 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 on to the idea to enter them in the upcoming Battle of the Bands competition and in doing so makes the kids, and their parents, realize that sometimes the pressures and responsibilities of school and everyday life just need a little face melting guitar riff and a head banging tune to solve their problems.
The pop-rock style of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's music for the show is somewhat reminiscent of his earlier rock musicals, with his music compositions and Glenn Slater's humorous lyrics incorporating several toe-tapping numbers and a couple of good, introspective, character-specific tunes. However, there are also a couple of songs in the show that are completely forgettable. The script by Julian Fellowes sticks close to Mike White's somewhat quirky and offbeat screenplay. While there isn't much drama in the piece, and you can clearly see the ending coming far in advance, it delivers some good messages about finding the joy in your life to help offset the frustrations, struggles, and daily demands of both youth and adults.
The touring cast deliver fun, winning and humorous portrayals. Merritt David Janes is both humorous and somewhat sympathetic as Dewey, creating an appealing, charming, sincere and lovable portrayal. His deep, warm and generous connection to the young actors in the cast is endearing. Janes is the alternate in the role, but you'd never know it from his solid performance that features rich comic delivery and some wild and wacky gestures and line deliveries that earn big laughs. As the uptight, strong and authoritative Rosalie, Lexie Dorsett Sharp delivers a charming performance of this woman who finds that the presence of Dewey helps soften her hardened, guarded exterior. Sharp's bright and full singing voice soars on both her solo "Where Did the Rock Go?" and a beautifully rich performance of a piece of the classic Mozart opera aria, "The Queen of the Night."
As we are told from a prerecorded announcement from Andrew Lloyd Webber that opens the show, all of the young cast members play their own instruments during the show, and the musical abilities of Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton, Vincent Molden, Theo Mitchell-Penner and Theodora Silverman, as the four main members of the band that Dewey forms from the kids in his class, are nothing short of inspiring. Iara Nemirovsky is fun as Summer, the girl obsessed with achievement, and Grier Burke is excellent as Tamika, the young, quiet girl who comes out of her shell and finds friends and her voice under Dewey's guidance. Jesse Sparks adds some nice humor as the boy in Dewey's class who just happens to prefer reading Vogue and loves Barbra Streisand, and Matt Bittner and Emily Borromeo provide realistic portrayals of Dewey's friend Ned and his girlfriend Patty.
Laurence Connor's direction achieves bright, fun and engaging performances from the entire cast. The production elements are just slightly altered from the Broadway production for the tour, with Anna Louizos' effective scenic design providing rotating, moving panels that quickly transform the stage from Dewey's bedroom to the classroom and other locations with ease. Natasha Katz's lighting delivers in both the realistic daytime lighting for the classroom scenes as well as the high octane, rock concert infused lighting for the energetic finale.
School of Rock may be predictable, but with an efficiently directed cast that features some truly gifted youngsters and a message that everyone can learn from, it makes for a fun, crowd-pleasing musical full of humor and heart. Seeing these talented youth play live and having a blast while they rock out on stage adds a sense of pure, infectious joy to the production.
School of Rock, through June 24th, 2018, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit ustour.schoolofrockthemusical.com.
Director: Laurence Connor