Tuesday, March 6, 2018

School of Rock at Hennepin Theatre Trust

I'll be honest, when I first heard that the hit 2003 movie School of Rock was being developed into a musical I thought "Yeah...it could work." When I heard Andrew Lloyd Webber was the one creating it I thought "Wait...really?" I honestly didn't know what to think about it. On one hand it's a pretty good movie and had some really iconic lines including "You're tacky and I hate you," one of my personal favorites. However Webber? The same guy who wrote music for iconic Broadway productions like The Phantom of the Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar. Could it work? Would it work? Guess what...it worked.

School of Rock: The Musical is about a rock star wannabe, Dewey Finn, who gets kicked out of the band that he originally started. Lost and saddened by losing his band he also receives more flack from his best friend/roommate's fiance who pesters Dewey about paying rent and needing to get a real job. After taking a call, meant for his roommate, he worms his way into a substitute teaching job at a very extravagant private school. One day he overhears the class in their music room and soon puts together a rock band with the students to compete against his former band in the 'Battle of the Bands' contest. The journey they take will change all of their lives as a result.

The cast rocks harder than anyone I've ever seen. Never did I think I would be attending a musical production where midst performance people would be holding up their hands with the "Rock On" symbol instead of clapping. The pre-show announcement addressed probably one of the most asked questions about the production and it's "Do the kids really play these instruments?" The answer? Absolutely they do. The show features quadruple-threat kids between the ages 9-12. That's elementary school students for those keeping track at home. Not only do they sing, act and dance but they also play the instruments which makes for an even more fun performance.

Dewey is played by Rob Colletti and really is perfectly cast. I don't want to say he was just like Jack Black (who was the original in the film) but he had his moments that almost seemed homage to Black's performance. His high pitch scream was one of the most notable but he still managed to make the role especially finding moments of compassion and love for the kids involved in the newer scenes that the musical featured. Lexie Dorsett Sharp plays the uptight (who later let's loose) principal who has a really beautiful voice both in a power ballad and aria opera solo. Matt Bittner, who plays Ned, and Emily Borromeo, who plays Patty Di Marco, Ned's fiance, have a hilarious chemistry together as Patty pulls off the overbearing and controlling girlfriend.

The students really are the scene stealers in this production, of course and each have their moment. The kids really do work as a well oiled ensemble letting each student have their spotlight moment with the audience.

  • Ava Briglia, who plays Summer, is absolutely hilarious and annoying at the same time as the know it all student that we all know oh too well from school.
  • Gianna Harris, who plays Tomika, has stunning vocals and plays the shy character until she finally learns to speak up. She is also adopted by two men, something not featured in the original musical, and it's nice to see a same-sex couple even if it isn't the main part of the plot.
  • Phoenix Schuman, who plays Zack, is probably the one who rocks the hardest out of everyone as the band's lead guitarist. His numerous solo's had me honestly wanting to stand mid performance and crowd surf through the audience...but I won't cause audience etiquette is a thing.
  • Theodora Silverman, who plays Katie, has a hilarious physicality of her role as the band's bassist. She often had a grunge rock style facial expressions that had me thinking of a rock version of Wednesday Addams. It was hilarious.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater (Lyrics) really do create a dynamic and engaging score. The music includes numbers that feel very much like Broadway and a musical but also could easily be performed at a rock concert. Probably the anthem of the show is titled "Stick It to the Man" and really does encompass everything that the show is about which is basically show everyone what you're made of and never give up. The movie also features original songs from the movie like "School of Rock" which the band performs at the 'Battle of the Bands' contest.

While this show is absolutely incredible from the entertaining music to the wickedly talented kids, it does deal with a rather important theme and that's music education. Something that is particularly interesting about the production is that it parallels the story behind Webber's first production Jesus Christ Superstar which was written for a school and performed in a school. In 1992, Webber set up the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation which supports the arts, culture and heritage in schools. This really resonated with me and I'm sure with many of the audience members who studied the arts in school. I was a proud music kid who sang and played an instrument and also acted in the schools theatre department (shout out to Ms. Johnson and Ms. Kjellberg!). To me, that's one of the most important things the musical touches on.

I think that's what makes this production work so well. It keep's the original film's comedic moments, funny and popular lines and the overall zest for music it served. While it does this, it also highlights important themes like the one I mentioned previously and also brings more insight to the relationship between kids and their parents. The musical really focuses more on the fact that these kid's parents push them to learn, what some would say, more useful skills in life. I don't want to get to political but the kids in this production reminded me of the kids who are organizing the march to end gun violence after the shooting in Florida. They stand up for what they believe in and what they want their lives to be and that is truly inspiring.

School of Rock: The Musical is not only funny but it's inspiring and full of hit songs that had me bobbing my head and tapping my foot all the way home. For anyone who is a fan of the movie, I highly suggest you see this. It's a perfect production for new theatre fans and hopefully pulls in new theatre goers into our lovely word of art. School of Rock: The Musical is at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis through March 11th. Tickets can be found here.

*Photo credit to Matthew Murphy

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