Cutting class is usually not recommended — but the musical “School of Rock” adapted from the 2003 movie might be a show in this year’s Broadway in Louisville series that could be skipped. It doesn’t live up to some of the raves that the Broadway version earned when it opened three years ago.
The production directed by Laurence Conner suffers from its frequent cartoonish characters. Interestingly enough, while members of the adult cast fall into that category, the production’s shining moments come from its youngest members.
The story strongly follows Richard Linklater’s film that starred Jack Black as aging rocker Dewey Finn.
Just like in the film, Dewey, played here by Rob Colletti, gets fired from his band for upstaging the lead singer.
Down on his luck and staying with his friend Ned, who is a substitute teacher, he answers a telephone call from a prep school, and ends up taking a teaching job using Ned’s name. Dewey has no teaching skills — but rock ‘n’ roll, of course.
The musical includes the funny bits, such as Dewey having to cover his tracks and ignorance about education in front of the principal, Rosalie Mullins (Lexie Dorsett Sharp).
Hilarity ensues — or that’s the expectation. Colletti works to wriggle physical humor into the role, but there is little heart there or nuance to his Dewey. This character hits few emotional notes.
Sharp plays the ultimate schoolmarm, which works to make the school seem like a cold establishment. When Rosalie is with the children in their first musical scene, their music lesson, Sharp get to show her character’s flirtatious side and her own fine vocal chops as she sings part of Mozart’s aria for the Queen of the Night in “The Magic Flute.”
When Dewey learns Rosalie is a Stevie Nicks fan, he finds a way to connect with her by inviting her out for a drink. But the chemistry between the two falls flat.
The production’s best part comes when the band of young people Dewey finds himself tasked to teach get to play. This group take charge of their instruments onstage — electric guitar, bass, keyboards, drums — the works. They sing and dance with an infectious enthusiasm. In these scenes, choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter’s work helps create and spread energy throughout the stage and project it across the footlights.
These young people also act their parts, including their dismay with Dewey, their frustration and worries with their own host of nagging and pushy parents. The script and the direction of the scenes with students and parents interacting are some of the most engaging and heartfelt in the entire production.
Those scenes give deeper meaning to other parts of the story when the kids ultimately decide to play to an audience and show what they know and what they have learned under this dubious teacher. The best part of this musical and the production is that the children aren’t just cute — they look like they are having a great time and that transfers beyond the stage.
“School of Rock,” with an original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, and book by Julian Fellowes, runs through Sunday, March 18, at the Kentucky Center as part of the Broadway in Louisville series. For more information, call 502-844-7777 or visit louisville.broadway.com or www.kentuckycenter.org.
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