Thursday, March 8, 2018

School of Rock National Tour at the Orpheum Theatre


The touring production of School of Rock starts with a recorded announcement from the show's composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, answering the obvious question about this show: Are the kids on stage really playing their instruments? The answer is an emphatic "Yes"! It's easy to see why this is spelled out in the beginning. Once these young performers get to rocking out, it would be easy to believe that the sound is actually being made by adult professionals in the orchestra pit. These kids can play!
Theo Mitchell-Penner (Lawrence).
© Matthew Murphy.

The show plays at the Orpheum Theatre through March 11, and it is a high-energy adaptation of the 2003 movie that starred Jack Black. Stepping into Black's larger-than life shoes is Rob Colletti as Dewey Finn, the wannabe rock star who pretends to be his roommate to take a substitute teaching job at a fancy prep school. Colletti is delightful in the demanding role, bouncing all over the stage, talking a mile a minute, and charming the audience's socks off. Colletti makes this sloppy, self-centered man-child lovable even before he starts to show his students the power of self-expression through rock music.

Phoenix Schuman (Zack), Rob Colletti
(Dewey), and the cast 
of the School
of Rock
 tour. © Matthew Murphy
The script is by Julian Fellowes, and though the creator of Downton Abbey seems like an odd fit the musical seemed to follow the movie quite closely, while giving the students a little more back story. The new songs, with music by Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater, fit the classic-rock vibe of the tunes created for the film, though the ballads slow down the show a bit. There are subplots about the starchy school principal and Dewey's issues with his roommate Ned and Ned's girlfriend Patty, but the focus is the band.




The high-energy cast of the School of Rock tour. © Matthew Murphy. 
Each of the young actors is amazing at playing the transformation of their character while showing off their mad musical skills. Phoenix Schuman is the guitarist Zack, Theo Mitchell-Penner is the classical pianist-turned keyboardist Lawrence, and Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton is Freddy, who uses his drumsticks on anything that's around, not just his drum kit. Theodora Silverman has an awesome "rock face" as bass player Katie, and Gianna Harris is the quiet Tomika, who turns out to be a powerful singer. The other students sing backup or take on backstage roles, led by Ava Briglia as Summer, the know-it-all band manager. Each member of the class has a personality and a moment in the spotlight, and they all deserve a mention: Olivia Bucknor, Tommy Ragen, Chloe Ann Garcia, Carson Hodges, John Michael Pitera, and Gabriella Uhl.

Overall, it's a thoroughly enjoyable evening that shows young people rising to the occasion and coming together to create something empowering that also entertains. See it!