Encore Michigan

‘School of Rock’ a crowd pleaser at The Fisher

Review April 12, 2018 David Kiley

DETROIT, Mich.–School of Rock is a fun, fun show, now playing at The Fisher Theatre as part of the Broadway in Detroit series. There is hardly anything not to like here. Just like the film of the same name on which it is based, it’s a delightful romp through a fantasy prep school where oversight is so lax that an unlicensed imposter teacher can swoop in and turn uptight, over-programmed kids into a rock band.

As my sixteen year old son says, the show is “dope.”

At the center of the story is Dewey Finn (Rob Colletti), a 30-ish ne’er-do-well whose band has deserted him. He can’t make his rent. But his roommate gets an invitation to substitute teach at a posh prep school, and Dewey shows up to take his place, though he doesn’t really think it through as it will be the roommate to whom his paycheck will eventually be written.

Dewey is supposed to teach math, social studies, English, etc., but spends the days going over rock music history, band practice and rock music theory. The principal, Rosalie (Lexie Dorsett Sharp), is oblivious and easily hoodwinked, while she provides the perfect love interest–the sexy but under-sexed school matron–for the rule-breaking rebel Dewey.

There is a 12-actor ensemble of kids who make up Dewey’s class. In order to license this show, you have to cast kids who can actually play guitar, bass, drums and guitar. A handful of these kids do play, but the off-stage band makes it very difficult to tell when the kids and Dewey are playing and when they are. This is no big deal to patrons, except to curious people who know the rules of producing this show.

The child actors in this touring show are good. They are not great. And in a couple of cases where I expect remarkable vocals (if they are going to be cast in a big touring show, after all), I was met with some pretty average voices, including one actress who is supposed to wow the audience as the kid who has been quiet in class and is supposed to show Dewey that she is the best voice in the class. Um…not so much in this production.

Colletti is the star of this show and the performance on which the whole thing rests. He is solid. The trick in this show, though, for any actor playing Dewey, is that Jack Black is so indelibly linked to the role that I think casting directors are hiring actors to play Jack Black playing Dewey Finn. Colletti does this just fine, and no one expecting Jack Black will be disappointed.

A word about the creation of this show, which continues to run successfully on Broadway. The “book” for this show was created by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) or should I say Julian Fellowes’ staff. He is widely known for not doing his own writing. But Downton Abbey made the Fellowes a household name, even though he was caught red-handed stealing from the BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs and classic films like Mrs. Miniver. That said, one wonders why show creator Andrew Lloyd Weber even needed to call on a brand name writer for this. Based on the original hit film written by Mike White, a chimpanzee with a laptop could have created “the book” for School of Rock.

Though, given both Fellows’ and Weber’s track record and craft for taking other people’s work rather than creating their own successful work from a blank piece of paper, I suppose it is not that surprising.

As Weber’s music for this show, lyrics by Glen Slater, is adequate to bring the story’s energy to the boards from the memorable film , Paramount Pictures and Mr. White could have, I think, created an even stronger show with different producing collaborators.

When you start with a great crowd-pleasing story, as originally written by White, it’s pretty easy to create a crowd pleasing, feel-good show. And School of Rock is definitely all that and a bag of chips.

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Week of 4/23/2018

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