So, I’ve gone on record saying adapting a movie into a musical is generally a bad idea. That does not mean exceptions can’t be made. Take “School of Rock,” for example.
The movie was a star vehicle for Jack Black and fit his comedic sensibilities perfectly. “School of Rock,” the musical, playing now through Jan. 28, at the Fox Theatre, manages to capture much of the heart and charm of the movie and, while it doesn’t get a passing grade on all accounts, the cast (especially the kids) pushes it to the head of the class.
For those who skipped the movie, “School of Rock” is the story of Dewey (Rob Colletti), a deadbeat rocker who is kicked out of his band and has a passion for music that far exceeds his talent.
Inept at pretty much everything, Dewey reaches a point of crisis when his roommate and best friend Ned (Matt Bittner) threatens, at the prompting of his overbearing girlfriend Patty (Emily Borromeo), to kick Dewey out if he can’t help pay the rent.
Good fortune and plot contrivances come together as Dewey seizes the opportunity to pose as Ned, a substitute teacher, for a high-paying gig at a prestigious prep school.
Initially just interested in collecting a check and sleeping off a hangover, Dewey hears his students’ musical talents while playing in the school orchestra and realizes he can construct his own band while passing on his love of rock and rebellion.
Just out of the watchful eye of the uptight principal (played by Lexie Dorsett Sharp), Dewey trains his students for a shot at his own redemption at a local battle of the bands.
“School of Rock” bears the mark of British prestige with music by Broadway icon Andrew Lloyd Webber and the book by “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellows.
The show is at its best when it is rocking and while the standard Broadway-style tunes fall a little flat, the guitar-heavy numbers like “Mount Rock,” “Stick it to the Man” and (lifted from the movie) “In the End of Time” and “School of Rock” soar.
Colletti deserves credit for making the character of Dewey his own and mostly avoids the trap of just doing a Jack Black impression for the entire show. But, it’s the kids in the cast who really make “School of Rock” take flight.
As pre-recorded Andrew Lloyd Webber reminds us before the show, all of the child actors really do play their own instruments. From Phoenix Schuman on guitar (who broke out a little duck walk on the same stage once famously graced by Chuck Berry) to Theodora Silverman on bass to Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton on drums and Theo Mitchell-Penner on keyboard, the kids certainly have the talent to rock with the best of them.
Add in the impressive vocals of Gianna Harris and the comedic performances of Ava Briglia and John Michael Pitera and you have one of the finest collections of pre-pubescent performers this side of the Disney Channel.
In the end, “School of Rock” is simply a good time out at the theater and is a show both parents and kids can fully enjoy. Rock on.
“School of Rock” playing now through Jan. 28, at the Fox Theatre. For tickets, call 314-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.