Review: ‘School of Rock’ at the Hippodrome Theatre

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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.

Rob Colletti and Phoenix Schuman in the School of Rock Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Rob Colletti and Phoenix Schuman in the School of Rock Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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.

Rob Colletti and Lexie Dorsett Sharp in the School of Rock tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Rob Colletti and Lexie Dorsett Sharp in the School of Rock tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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.

School of Rock plays through March 25, 2018, at the Hippodrome Theatre – 12 North Eutaw Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (800) 982-ARTS or go online.

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Cassandra Miller
Cassandra Miller is a writer, editor, and publicist dedicated to amplifying the arts through her work as the president of CultuRally Communications and as a contributing writer to publications including DC Metro Theater Arts, Baltimore magazine, Bmore Art and The Washington Post. After teaching English in Italy and the Czech Republic in her early 20s, she applied her journalism degree from Boston University to a position as a daily newspaper section editor and founder and editor-in-chief of an arts and entertainment alternative weekly in her native upstate New York before moving to Baltimore five years ago. She has more than 10 years experience working in the journalism and marketing/PR fields at organizations such as Baltimore Center Stage, the Greater Baltimore Committee, Visit Baltimore and The Washington Post. She has been in love with theater since she performed as both Maria and Mother Superior in a sixth-grade summer camp production of "The Sound of Music."