When the voice of legendary British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber tells the audience at the Durham Performing Arts Center that, “Yes, the kids definitely do play their own instruments,” people laugh appreciatively; but the last laugh is on them. Webber’s comment is the most understated moment of the evening; and by the end of the show, those kids playing their own instruments are getting a standing ovation, because School of Rock: The Musical really rocks!
This 2015 Broadway and 2016 West End musical is based on the 2003 Paramount movie, written by Mike White and starring Jack Black. It features music by Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Julian Fellowes, direction by Laurence Connor, and choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter.
This story about a failed rock star who steals a part-time teaching job from his best friend is both heartwarming and funny, with music that keeps the audience dancing in their seats. The overweight, immature, wannabe rock star Dewey Finn — who’s never quite made it — is played with brilliant comedic timing by Rob Colletti, who played the role of Elder Cunningham in both the Broadway and touring productions of The Book of Mormon. His first song, as backup on “I’m Too Hot for You,” is off-key and over-the-top; but when he begins working with the kids, Dewey shares his passion for making it to the top of “Mount Rock” and learns some humility.
Dewey’s story is one that is as familiar as any rags-to-riches story like those that Horatio Alger introduced many years ago. Dewey’s friends and band mates are ready to give up on him, yet the kids find something in Dewey’s big goofy heart that they can relate to, and his belief in them encourages those students to spread their wings and fly with confidence (as he has).
As stated earlier, those kids that Dewey teaches actually become the stars of the evening. Though the adults in the show are talented — Leslie Dorsett Sharp is the perfectly bitchy and secretly-rock-chick-principal Rosalie Mullins, Matt Bittner is Dewey’s meek best friend Ned Schneebly, and Emily Borromeo is Dewey’s uppity girlfriend Patty Di Marco — the moments when the stage becomes electric with song and dance are those times when the kids are present.
Naturally, the band that Dewey puts together is entered in a battle of the bands; and the kids have to fight with their parents to make them understand how important music is to them. (This plot line is fairly common to stories of this type.)
The song “If Only You Would Listen” evokes sympathy from the audience as the kids take their turns as soloists, singing to their parents, begging for the attention that all artists need to continue following their dreams.
The talent embodied in the core cast of 12 kids — who strut their stuff and play instruments with the confidence of true rock stars — is amazing, and the actors who bring the play to life are Ava Briglia (Summer), Olivia Bucknor (Shonelle), Rayna Farr (Swing), Bella Fraker (Swing), Carson Hodges (Mason), Alex Louis (Swing), Theo Mitchell Penner (Lawrence), Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton (Freddy), Jameson Moss (Stanley), John Michael Pitera (Billy), Tommy Ragen (James), Phoenix Schuman (Zack), Theodora Silverman (Katie), Gabriella Uhl (Sophie), Hernando Umana (Theo), and Aiden Niklas Villa (Swing).
Certain adult actors also give standout performances. (Particularly impressive are the raspy, powerful vocals and comedic chops of Rob Colletti and the operatic range of his counterpart, Lexie Dorsett Sharp as Rosalie Mullins.) But the best moments in the show are generated by the energy of Chloe Anne Garcia (Marcy) and the incredible vocals of Gianna Harris (Tomika). They are truly stars to watch, but all of the members of the cast work together to create a show that has the audience standing on its feet, hootin’ and hollerin’ throughout the show, clear through to the last moments of the last song.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 22nd Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Brian Howe: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/school-of-rock/Event?oid=9540356; Nov. 20th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com preview by Kathy Hanrahan for “What’s on Tap”: http://www.wral.com/raleigh-native-returns-in-school-of-rock-at-dpac/17116717/; Nov. 18th Burlington, NC Times-News review by Rachel Teseneer for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/elon-university-grad-returns-to-area-with-school-of-rock/; and Sept. 8th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/entertainment/article171620367.html.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents SCHOOL OF ROCK: THE MUSICAL at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29 and 30, 8 p.m. Dec. 1, 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 2, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $30 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/2247288.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=t4VASf8yeIU.
DPAC‘S 2017-18 “TEN GREAT YEARS” SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2017-18 and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/announcing-suntrust-broadway-at-dpac-2017-2018-season.
THE TOUR: https://ustour.schoolofrockthemusical.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/school-of-rock–the-musical–514770, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_Rock_(musical)#U.S._Tour_.282017.29.
TOUR CAST & CREATIVE: https://ustour.schoolofrockthemusical.com/cast-creative/.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2nd, performance.
School of Rock (2003 film): https://www.facebook.com/SchoolofRockMovie (official website), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/450121/School-of-Rock/ (Turner Classic Movies), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0332379/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_Rock (Wikipedia).
School of Rock: The Musical (2015 Broadway and 2016 West End musical): https://schoolofrockthemusical.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/school-of-rock–the-musical-498972 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_Rock_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Andrew Lloyd Webber (music): https://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/ (official website), https://ustour.schoolofrockthemusical.com/creative/andrew-lloyd-webber/ (tour bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/andrew-lloyd-webber-12073 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Andrew-Lloyd-Webber-Baron-Lloyd-Webber-of-Sydmonton (Encyclopædia Britannica), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Lloyd_Webber (Wikipedia).
Glenn Slater (lyrics): https://ustour.schoolofrockthemusical.com/creative/glenn-slater/ (tour bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/glenn-slater-80644 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_Slater (Wikipedia).
Julian Fellowes (book): https://www.julianfellowesbelgravia.com/ (official website), https://ustour.schoolofrockthemusical.com/creative/julian-fellowes/ (tour bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/julian-fellowes-408507 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Fellowes (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.