Dewey Finn, the schleppy hero of School of Rock, is a modern-day Maria Von Trapp, leading children to find happiness through music. While posing as a substitute teacher, he shares his passion for rock-and-roll with the buttoned-up students of Horace Green Prep School – and in so doing, changes them, and himself, for the better.
The stage musical version of the beloved 2003 movie starring Jack Black has every bit of the film’s charm and entertainment factor. Debuting on Broadway in 2015, School of Rock features a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, his first “rock” musical since Jesus Christ Superstar, and a clever book by Julian Fellowes (creator, executive producer and writer of Downton Abbey). The music is upbeat and rock-influenced and the anthem “Stick it to the Man” is a particularly catchy earworm. Most of the songs also spotlight the talented ensemble of children, who play their own instruments on this national tour, which stops at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre through March 25.
Dewey, played enthusiastically by Rob Colletti, is a screwup with limited skills. He mooches off of his friend Ned, whose overbearing girlfriend Patty demands that Dewey start paying rent. Dewey is down on his luck after also being kicked out of his band – the thing he cares most about – so when the prestigious Horace Green Preparatory School calls with a substitute teaching job for Ned, Dewey poses as his friend for the $950/week paycheck.
Dewey is hopeless as a traditional substitute teacher, telling his students he’s hungover and that recess will last all day, which does not go over well with the high-achieving 10-year-olds. When Dewey learns the kids can play music, however, he comes alive. His passion for (and knowledge of) music is infectious. He sets up a structured curriculum of rock history, music appreciation, and band practice, unintentionally speaking the same language as his type-A class, and opening them up to a whole new type of education.
Colletti’s performance is delightful and shows influences of Jack Black’s average-Joe quirkiness. (Colletti’s last gig was stand-in for Elder Cunningham in the national tour of The Book of Mormon so he’s got experience with quirky.) Lexie Dorsett Sharp, playing the uptight principal with a secret love for Stevie Nicks, offers a solid performance as Dewey’s love interest.
School of Rock is a family-friendly show, with central themes of second chances, kids teaching adults what is important, and, coincidentally timely, female empowerment. On opening night in Baltimore, the audience exploded in applause several times during the performance whenever one of the female students exemplified new-wave feminism. For example, when girl-boss-in-training Summer responds to Dewey’s encouragement to “Stick it to the man…or woman” when she gets older: “Yeah, but she’d only get 70 cents to the dollar.” There is also a joke about the U.S. presidency that has a much different meaning now than when the show debuted in 2015.
The pop culture references get some of the biggest laughs in the show, which is an overall delight thanks to the talented kid ensemble, endearing lead performance and solid book and score. If you’re looking for something to please the whole family, this is it.
Running Time: About two hours and 15 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.