School of Rock opened this week at the Cadillac Palace Theater. Based on the 2003 movie starring Jack Black, School of Rock tells the story of Dewey Finn (played by Rob Colletti), a failed wannabe rock star, freeloading off of his best friend, whose sole ambition in life is to win The Battle of the Bands. Kicked out of his own band and faced with having to pay rent, Finn stumbles his way into a substitute teaching position at the posh, prestigious and rigorously straight-laced Horace Green Academy. He soon realizes that the kids in his class have incredible musical talent and a new plan is hatched: Finn’s new entry into The Battle of the Bands will be the children from his class at Horace Green Academy.
The show features music from the movie, as well as an original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, a book by Julian Fellowes, choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter and direction by Laurence Connor. The show was nominated for four 2016 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score (Lloyd Webber and Slater), Best Book (Fellowes), and Best Leading Actor in a Musical (Alex Brightman).
The music is charming: at once joyfully offering praise to the gods of rock, then agonizing over the realization of losing the passions of youth and raging against the pain of being a kid unheard by her parent, teacher, peers.
Finn arms his students with guitars, keyboards, drums and the encouragement of an adult who is paying attention to their needs and to their talents. Mathmatics and Social Studies are set aside in favor of Music History and Music Theory. The kids transform into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band, School of Rock.
The songs are darling and the adults are well portrayed and the set is clever, but the undeniable stars of this production are the kids in Dewey’s class. The kids actually play their own instruments, we are reminded by the disembodied voice of Andrew Lloyd Webber prior to the start of the show. They rock so hard that I had to remind myself of that several times throughout the show. Phoenix Schuman (Zack) on the guitar, Gilberto Morett-Hamilton (Freddy) on drums, Theodora Silverman (Katie) on bass and Theo Mitchell-Penner (Lawrence) on keyboards are a joy to watch transform from overscheduled, underappreciated fifth graders to the primary musicians of School of Rock. Gianna Harris (Tomika) has an incredible voice and is especially fun to watch blossom from a painfully shy nonverbal wallflower into a highly gifted lead singer. (Fun fact: Harris played one of the back up singers in the production of School of Rock that I saw in New York City in January, 2017. She has a recognizable dance move: she can jump higher than anyone else on stage.)
School of Rock will play in Chicago for a limited three-week engagement November 1-19, 2017. (Cadillac Palace Theater, 151 W. Randolph)