Review: "SCHOOL OF ROCK" is now in Session

Jill Weinlein

  • Chief Los Angeles Theatre Critic

It’s been a while since I’ve walked out of a theatre humming a song from a musical. After seeing School of Rock on opening night, I found myself not only humming, but singing “Stick it to the Man” while driving home. The next day, I sang it again while doing chores around the house. Not only is this song catchy, it had the audience up and out of their seats at the end of the show.

The original score by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and clever lyrics by Glenn Slater were inspired by Julian Fellowes book.Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s high-octane Broadway and West End show is a hit at the Pantages Theatre. It was a thrill to see Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, walking the red carpet and posing with some of the young and talented cast before taking a seat to see his show.

Based on the popular 2003 film starring UCLA Bruin alum Jack Black, the musical opens in a small rock venue with the raucous and frumpy Dewey Finn (played by the charismatic Rob Colletti). While playing his electric guitar in his No Vacancy rock n’ roll band, it’s obvious he doesn’t quite fit in. The thin, black leather pants and bare chest lead singer and other ultra cool band members, kick him out and replace him with a more fierce musician named Snake.

Choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter and director Laurence Connor did a flawless job with the cast that includes twelve talented children. Even though the old W.C. Fields saying "Never work with Children of Animals,” is the belief that no adult can compete, Colletti playing teacher Dewey Finn doesn’t have to worry. These kids shine onstage, and Coletti is downright awesome.

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Scenic and costume designer Anna Louizos must have had a fun time dressing the cast throughout the show. Lighting designer Natasha Katz and sound designer Mick Potter transport the audience from prep school classroom to a Battle of the Bands rock concert.

Dewey is a wannabe rocker with a Peter Pan complex and no money. He parties at night and sleeps all day. When he answers a phone call from a principal of a prestigious prep school directed for his best friend and roommate Ned (Matt Bittner), he impersonates him. He’s “sick and tired of being the guy people go to who he owes money,” including Ned’s girlfriend Patty (Emily Borromeo), who calls him a freeloader, rude and never pays his rent. Sneakily he accepts the job for Ned to be a substitute teacher for an indefinite time period, especially when he learns he will be paid $950 a week.

Walking into Horace Green Preparatory School, all the kids are dressed in formal brown and plaid uniforms. Shlubby Dewey takes everyone at the school by surprise, yet soon wins the hearts of his students, especially when he discovers they are all musically gifted. Instead of grades and gold star charts, he grants these kids “soul brothers and soul sisters” and gives them a history lesson in rock n’ roll. They, in turn, will help Dewey live his dream, since he was 10 years old, to be a great rock star.

Ready to shake the Ivy walls, he teaches the kids to strum a guitar, pick a rhythmic bass, and turns a piccolo player named Freddy (Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton) into a righteous drummer. When classic piano player tells Dewey he isn’t cool enough to be in the band, Dewey tells him “By the time you are done with the piano, you will be so cool, you will be a walking popsicle.” Precocious student Summer (Iara Nemirovsky), always eager to follow the rules and earn gold stars, becomes the band’s manager. Shy Tomika (Grier Burke) blossoms and belts out “Amazing Grace” to become a lead singer with Dewey. Shonelle (Olivia Bucknor) cast as one of the adorable backup singers is precious in this show.

Homework for the students is to listen and study the CD’s of The Supremes, Aretha Franklin and Rush. An insightful scene for parents is when the tweens sing “If Only You Would Listen,” alluding to how kids think parents talk a lot and but don’t hear their children.

When Dewey sings “Stick It to the Man” before intermission, we learn more about what makes kids tick. Katie (Theodora Silverman) doesn’t like being overscheduled. The kids have so much fun jumping up and down shouting “Stick It to the Man.” They excitedly agree with Dewey to name their band School of Rock, and enter the Battle of the Bands and “teach rock n’ roll music to the world.”

At the end, the audience claps and chants “Stick It to the Man” as Dewey throws out guitar picks to the audience in a lively concert-like setting. While the audience continues cheering and clapping for an encore, I realize right then, this cast has won over more School of Rock groupies.

School of Rock is suitable for children over 8 years and will be at the Pantage Theatre until May 27, 2018.