THEATER REVIEW: “School of Rock” @ Playhouse Square by Laura Kennelly

Through Sun 3/24

School may be classified as “work” for children, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. School of Rock, now playing at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre, offers a raucous musical treatise about how to have a blast in school, fool parents and teachers, and learn to be a hot rock star — at least if you have the right substitute teacher.

Directed by Laurence Connor, School of Rock follows the 2003 film version with an original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber (trademark melodies seep out at odd times), raucous lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a simple storyline by Julian (Downton Abbey) Fellowes.

If you saw the film, you know the plot. If you didn’t, don’t worry— it’s easy. Poor Dewey Finn (Gary Trainor) can’t find success as a rock star. His antics in the opening “I’m Too Hot for You” show his total lack of talent as he tries to upstage the sexy lead singer of No Vacancy, the rockers he’s playing with. After they kick him out, he’s desperate enough for money to fake his credentials and hustle a job as a substitute teacher for a fifth-grade class.

Dewey, who has expertise and interest in only one thing — rock music — creates a band. He selects the talented ones to star and finds roles for the others as well. Camille De La Cruz, as the seemingly shy Tomika, gives us all a thrill when we see her suddenly transform (the way contestants on The Voice sometimes do) as she powers through “Amazing Grace.” The 12 children in his class are all adorable scene-stealers (like all children onstage). Choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter spotlights each young actor and helps us see them as recognizable individuals.

Principal Rosalie (Lexie Dorsett Sharp), like the rest of the school faculty, fails to notice what’s happening in the classroom until it’s too late, but she does get to sing the woeful “Where Did the Rock Go?” Song titles such as “Stick It to the Man” and “I’m Too Hot for You,” indicate the show’s stress on music as a medium of liberation and joy.

And for those of us who might doubt that youngsters could play so well, a recorded announcement by Andrew Lloyd Webber before the show assures that “Yes, the kids are actually playing their instruments.” Not badly either. They do have an occasional framing and back up by a small orchestra directed by keyboardist Martyn Axe, but four — guitarist Zack (Mystic Inscho), keyboardist Lawrence (Julian Brescia), drummer Freddy (Cameron Trueblood) and bassist Katie (Leanne Parks) — shine as young musicians. While she admits she lacks talent as an instrumentalist, the assertive fifth-grader Summer (Sami Bray) puts her bossy skills to use as band manager.

Opening night there were problems with scene changes, but it was interesting to see how professionally everyone handled it. The actors were told to leave the stage and after about 10 minutes, the show started again right before the point of “scene disaster.” No problem.

Bottom Line: A light-hearted, feel-good musical that may spark a few good memories in grown-up hearts. Well done, students!

[Written by Laura Kennelly]

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