Regional Reviews: Seattle
School of Rock
Andrew Lloyd Webber secured the rights to musicalize School of Rock as well as produce the show. He also composed the agreeable musical (Glenn Slater provides the lyrics), giving him his first solid Broadway hit post the halcyon days of Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, and The Phantom of the Opera. The book by Julian Fellowes ("Downton Abbey") hews closely, though not slavishly, to the film screenplay by Mike White.
Ne'er-do-well guitarist Dewey shares a permanent non-paying roommate situation with his old pal Ned Schneebly (Layne Roate), a former musician turned substitute teacher with an abrasive wife named Patty (Madison Micucci). When Dewey gets thrown out of his bar band, he finds himself in dire need of work. Posing as Ned, Dewey gets a substitute teacher job at a posh private elementary school and exposes his students to the hard rock gods he idolizes and emulatesmuch to the consternation of Rosalie (Lizzie Klemperer), the by the books school principal. As he gets his privileged young charges in touch with their inner rock 'n' roll animals, Dewey imagines redemption at a local Battle of the Bands.
Despite the obvious similarities to other, better crafted shows like The King and I, The Sound of Music, and others, the show's pulse and beat won me over, thanks to the canny direction by Laurence Connor and especially the red-hot choreography of JoAnn M. Hunter. And, yes, the amazing youths in the cast do play their own instruments.
Janes' Dewey is in no way a carbon copy of Black's. He has an impressive voice, great comic instincts, and plays this dirty likable scoundrel of a character with panache. Lizzie Klemperer, as Rosalie, impresses in her spinster with an inner wild child role, but the relationship with Dewey is underwritten (though you can see where it's going early on). Klemperer nails her big song "Where Did the Rock Go?," but I really wanted her Rosalie to have more to do. Madison Micucci has the unenviable shrew of a wife role but no musical number of her own to let us in on why Patty is that way. Layne Roate is a real find as Ned, making a strong impression as a young comic character actor, but again, where is a featured song for him? Deidre Lang has enough presence and comic know-how to steal her brief moments as the sassy teacher Ms. Sheinkopf.
With a stage full of wildly talented, grade-A young actor/singer/musicians, allow me to single out the touching delivery of "Amazing Grace" by Camille De La Cruz as Tomika, the shyest kid with the vocal chops of a young Aretha Franklin; Sami Bray as the take-charge band manager Summer; Julian Brescia ideally cast as Lawrence, a kid who overcomes his chubby kid status to wow on the keyboards; Leanne Parks showing tremendous stage presence and fierce talent on the bass guitar as Katie; Mystic Inscho as an ace acoustic guitarist/songwriter Zack; Cameron Trueblood as rad percussionist Freddy; and Sammy Dell, captivating as Billy, the fashionista stylist and out Barbra Streisand fan. Congratulations to all the above and all the other kids in the company. You're living the dream many of us had at your ages.
Andrew Lloyd Webber fans may not swoon over this show so much as his classics, but with all the love, talent and heart coming across the footlights, it qualifies as a grade-B adaptation, with a grade-A+ cast and production.
School of Rock, through May 19, 2019, at the Paramount Theatre, 9th and Pine, Seattle WA. For tickets and information, visit STGPresents.org, Ticketmaster.com, the Paramount box office (Monday-Friday, 10am to 6pm). For more information on the tour, visit ustour.schoolofrockthemusical.com.