What happens when a musical movie earns more than $131 million on a $35 million investment? If you’re Andrew Lloyd Webber, you buy the rights and turn them into a rock school with lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Julian Fellowes.
What happens when you take a dynamic, totally unrestricted actor who uses the stage as a playroom, adds a group of geeky fifth graders who sing, dance, and plays instruments, and adds to the rock mix the voices of Andrew Lloyd Webber? The group becomes a school of rock.
Contrary to his usual scheme of things, Britain’s Webber opened the show in New York rather than London. why? Child labor laws are looser in the United States than in England. Plus, the theme fits Broadway better than London’s West End. But more importantly, American schools “reproduce the kind of kids needed to actually perform on the show.”
So, what is all this about?
The musical begins with a performance by No Vacancy. Finn, who has an ADHD personality type, has a hard time undoing his enthusiasm and continues to imitate the lead performer. Enough, enough, he was kicked out of the group.
With no income, he moves in with Ned, his easily manipulated longtime college bandmate, and part-time teacher, much to the chagrin of Patti, Ned’s domineering girlfriend.
When a call comes in for Ned to replace him at the prestigious Horace Green Prep School, Dewey sees an opportunity to get some much-needed money by impersonating Ned. Despite the suspicions of Rosalie, the nervous manager, he gets the party going.
Kids worry about it, especially the Uber-organised summer. He also has to contend with the problems of Tomika, the extremely shy daughter of gay men, who turns out to be a super singer; Zack, the son of a nervous businessman who doesn’t realize his son is a musical prodigy; Lawrence, who has no confidence, but is a keyboard wizard; Freddy, who everyone thinks is intellectually slow, but once he gets a pair of drumsticks in his hand, it shows how talented he really is; Billy, who is brilliant, is interested in fashion design, but his macho father is underappreciated. Every other kid has an untapped talent that creative Dewey brings to life through unconventional means.
Dewey decides to get them into a gang fight. They go to auditions after sneaking out of school, but they are late to play. Summer tells the casting director that all the kids have “plaque disease,” and begs for some mercy, and the grieving director lets the kids perform. Of course, they enter the competition.
What follows is a series of manipulations, unbelievable coincidences, and some extension beyond the realm of dramatic licensing. Results? Farce and hysteria erupt and the audience is having a good time.
Do they win the gang battle? That is not important. What is important is that Dewey and the children find love and self-respect.
The musical score, although it does include iconic songs from the film, adds additional well-crafted theatrical melodies. Show-stopping instruments include “You’re in the Band,” “Hold on to the Guy,” “At the End of Time,” “Math has a great time,” and “School of Rock.” Use ‘If only you’re going to listen’ and ‘It’s time to play’, and you’ll get great points.
The positive stage of SCHOOL OF ROCK requires gorgeous kids gifted with music, an unfettered slacker to portray Dewey, an internet rock band, and creative theatre.
Fortunately, Joanna May Cullinan, director of creative theater at Ken Park, has found most of the right ingredients.
In the original production, most of the children were playing musical instruments. Cullinan wisely reduced that number to a manageable four. David Jezek (piano), Julia Leech (bass), Nathan Miller (guitar) and Jayden Willis (drums) creative whales!
The other children in the cast – Nya Ku, Lucas Klodnick, Harmoni Garrett, Annie Pelletier, Gigi Simone Pretzer, Kaitlyn Bartholomew, Ella Stec, Ethan Monaghan and Sam Spencer did a great job creating their characters.
Douglas F. Billy II is an oath of a slacker like the irrepressible Dewey.
Music director Bradley Weiner and his six-piece band had a great sound!
Ben Needham created a rotating toolkit that helped transition seamlessly from one scene to the next. Lights and sound helped enhance the show.
Cullinan’s show was targeted and she’s done a great job at showcasing comedy.
The only missing elements were the random choreography, which often made the performance seem chaotic and out of sync, and embarrassingly poor costumes. The final scene in which the kids and Dewey really parted should have found them in leather, dye, and funky rock outfits, not in assorted outfits that looked like they were veiled together at the last minute of the thrift store.
However, in the long run, at least not on opening night, when most of the audience brought bouquets of flowers to give their children after yelling and stomping, anything important except for the fact that the show went on.
Capsule Verdict: SCHOOL OF ROCK is a fun-packed show with a nice moral message. The Cain Park production is well-steered and performs. rock music. cast actors. It’s the kind of show the audience loves.
SCHOOL OF ROCK runs through June 26 at the Alma Theater in Caen Park. For tickets go to cainpark.com