'School of Rock': Theater Review

Matthew Murphy
Rob Colletti (center) and company in 'School of Rock'
A crowd-pleaser for the easily pleased.

The touring company of the Tony-nominated musical arrives in Hollywood, with Andrew Lloyd Webber on hand for opening night.

When the Richard Linklater movie School of Rock hit theaters in 2003, it didn't win any awards, just warm reviews and a solid worldwide box-office take of $131 million. That was good enough to earn it the Broadway treatment from the A-list team of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyricist Glenn Slater and book writer Julian Fellowes. The result received four Tony nominations including best musical, though as the touring company arrives at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre, it's initially hard to see why.

Alex Brightman earned one of those Tony noms playing Dewey Finn, the role immortalized by Jack Black in the movie. The touring company stars Rob Colletti (The Book of Mormon) as the wannabe rocker who freeloads off his best friend, Ned Schneebly (Matt Bittner), and the latter's girlfriend, Patty (Emily Borromeo). With rent due and no way to pay it, Dewey impersonates Schneebly as a substitute teacher at Horace Green prep school.

It's a deceptively difficult role, requiring a performer who can tread the line between inspired renegade and trusted babysitter. For the most part, Colletti gracefully pulls it off, introducing us to his world and his dream with "When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock," a dreary ironic anthem in tune with most of the uninspired score by Lloyd Webber, who attended opening night. Lexie Dorsett Sharp as uptight school Principal Rosalie Mullins gets stuck with a similar dud in her second act solo, "Where Did the Rock Go?," a song that floats with all the subtlety of its title despite Sharp's powerful and evocative voice.

The antidote, which the show finally delivers halfway through the first act, is the ensemble of kids who make up Dewey's class. It's hard not to be impressed by a preteen like Vincent Molden, who can shred an ax with the dexterity of Hendrix, or the fussy and charming Theo Mitchell-Penner, able to switch on a dime from Johann Sebastian Bach to Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Grier Burke charms as reluctant diva Tomika, and Iara Nemirovsky gives a buttoned-down portrayal of Summer, the goody-two-shoes band manager whose references to female empowerment get a rise out of the audience. Lloyd Webber's best composition is "You're in the Band," an ensemble piece in which Dewey introduces each of the kids and samples their talents while inducting them into a group to compete in a contest.

It's telling that the musical high points are the two songs not composed by Lloyd Webber — Principal Mullins' rendition of the "Queen of the Night" aria from The Magic Flute, sung with breezy wit and gaiety; and the title number from the film, "School of Rock." They stand in contrast to the show's closing reprise, "Stick It to the Man," a chant whose sentiments are woke enough, even if Lloyd Webber, Slater and Fellowes are unlikely to pass for the voice of the anti-establishment underdog.

Fellowes' book serves the material best when it defers to Mike White's solidly crafted screenplay, a unified study in pacing, structure and character, and a subtle endorsement for arts education, of which Lloyd Webber is a vocal advocate. Laurence Connor successfully directs traffic, moving his cast of kids around without collision, and choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter weaves in dance steps simple enough to overwhelm neither the children nor the audience.

Uneven though it is, School of Rock is sweet and earnest at its finest, focusing on impossible-to-resist children passionate and thrilled to be rocking the main stage. It's the getting there that’s a long hard slog, a lesson that can be applied to the theater, rock and life.

Venue: Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles
Cast: Rob Colletti, Lexie Dorsett Sharp, Matt Bittner, Emily Borromeo, Merritt David Janes, Olivia Bucknor, Grier Burke, John Campione, Patrick Clanton, Christopher DeAngelis, Kristian Espiritu, Melanie Evans, Rayna Farr, Liam Fennecken, Bella Fraker, Kara Haller, Carson Hodges, Elysia Jordan, Jack Suarez Kimmel, Deidre Lang, Alyssa Emily Marvin, Sinclair Mitchell, Theo Mitchell-Penner, Vincent Molden, Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton, Jamieson Moss, Iara Nemirovsky, Tim Shea, Theodora Silverman, Jesse Sparks, Cameron Trueblood, Gabriella Uhl, Hernando Umana, Huxley Westemeier
Director: Laurence Connor
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Book: Julian Fellowes, based on the Paramount movie written by Mike White
Set and costume designer: Anna Louizos
Lighting designer: Natasha Katz
Sound designer: Mick Potter
Choreographer: JoAnn M. Hunter
Music director: Darren Ledbetter
Music supervisor: Ethan Popp
Presented by Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Really Useful Group, Warner Music Group & Access Industries, The Shubert Organization and Nederlander Presentations