By MIKE CHAIKEN
“School of Rock, The Musical,” the Andrew Lloyd Webber show that has set down at The Bushnell in Hartford this week is great fun.
It’s a show fit for all ages (despite a few slipped in cuss words). It has some great laughs, especially courtesy of lead Rob Colletti. The kids who fill the stage are immensely—and frighteningly– talented. The music is a surprising change of piece from the more orchestral works by Webber. And the book, written by Julian Fellowes, does a fine job of adapting the original Richard Linklater film (which starred Jack Black) for the stage.
Many in the audience left the theater after the Tuesday, Oct. 24 performance with great big smiles on their faces, and spoke enthusiastically about what they saw. That was a key sign that the creative forces behind the show crafted a winner.
The story is about a loveable loser, Dewey Finn, who dreams of being a rock star. He steadfastly holds onto this ambition even though his expiration date to achieve this dream is fading as he become fully entrenched in his 30s. The show begins with him being kicked out of his band, kicked out of his job, and threatened to be kicked out of his living situation, where he freeloads off an ex-bandmate. Finn smells opportunity when a tony private school calls his buddy, who is a teacher, looking for a substitute. Hearing the pay scale, Finn masquerades as his buddy to get the gig. Clearly out of his depth, Finn also is barely interested in teaching his young charges. When he discovers the musical skills of his fourth grade class, he decides to redirect their talents toward becoming a really good rock band—one fit to win “The Battle of the Bands.”
Colletti does a great job, and works his rear off, as Finn. (Toward the end of the show, he’s drenched in sweat.) He clowns around, eliciting a gaggle of giggles from the audience. He’s also likeable, even if he is a bit of an idiot. We root for him to succeed.
The kids in the cast are key to the show’s charm. Theodora Silverman, Tommy Ragen, Chloe Anne Garcia, Carson Hodges, Gianna Harris, Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton, Phoenix Schuman, John Michael Pitera Theo Mitchell-Penner, Ava Briglia, and Gabrielle Uhll—are the heart of the show. All of them are talented and are immensely watchable.
In particular, Briglia, as Summer, is great as the precocious bossy kid in the class– the one mature voice in a roomful of kids (and this includes Finn). She’s kind of the Jiminy Cricket of “The School of Rock”—the voice of reason.
The musical skills of Moretti-Hamilton on drums, Silverman on bass, Schuman on guitar, and Mitchell-Penner on keyboards—also are jaw-dropping fabulous. They would put many adults to shame with their musical chops.
This is truly one of those shows, like Matilda, where adults for the most part are just props to move along the plot.
The exception, other than Coletti, is Lexie Dorsett Sharp’s character, Rosalie, the staid principle of the stuffy private school, Horace Green Academy. Her transformation from stuffed shirt to musical sympathizer is probably the most complex character of the show.
As noted, “The School of Rock” is great fun.
Is it great art? Well, no. It definitely is firmly entrenched in the category of crowd pleaser than groundbreaker.
But sometimes, to borrow a line of thought from Dewey Finn, the best way to stick it to the man—the man who believes all theater should make us think—is to witness a show where the sole ambition is to make us smile.
I give “School of Rock, The Musical” three out of four stars.
“School of Rock, The Musical” continues at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., and Sunday at 1:30 and 6:30 p.m.