By Morgan Politzer
The cast of “School of Rock” “climbed to the top of Mount Rock” in director Laurence Connor’s musical adaption of the 2003 movie of the same name.
The musical follows the story of wannabe rock star slob Dewey Finn (Rob Colletti) as he poses as a fraudulent substitute teacher at Horace Green Preparatory School to make money for his rent. He pretends to be his best friend and roommate Ned Schneebly (Matt Bittner) after Ned’s nagging girlfriend Patty (Emily Borromeo) threatens to kick him out. When Dewey discovers his overachieving students are talented musicians, he uses them to put together an electric guitar playing, drum-banging rock band.
Colletti easily fills the shoes left behind by Jack Black in the original role as he brought a lovable, childish energy to the character. Colletti’s unstoppable excitement and ability to switch from serious controlled vocals to high-pitched rock wails create a character the audience can’t help but root for, serving as the direct contrast to the straight-laced, no-nonsense character that is Rosalie Mullins (Lexie Dorsett Sharp), the principal at Horace Green. Sharp’s powerhouse vocals and stern authoritative glances mark her as the seemingly antithesis of Dewey, until Rosalie’s complexity as a character is revealed in Act II.
But by far the most impressive part of this production is the musical talent of the students of Horace Green. Each time they picked up an instrument, they played it onstage, rather than relying on an orchestra. The theater was suddenly a rock concert with Katie (Theodora Silverman) and her perfectly exaggerated poker face strumming on the base, Freddy banging out the beat on the drums (Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton), Zack (Vincent Molden) wailing on the electric guitar and Lawrence (Theo Mitchell Penner) pounding on the keyboard.
The balancing act of creepy and sweet is critical in this production. With its over-the-top characters and wild shenanigans, there were times the production toed the line of making audiences feel a need to call child protective services, but Colletti always managed to reign it in before it arrived in the realm of unbelievable and uncomfortable. His lovable awkwardness and sincerity create an authentic bond with the children, so real that Dewey is forgiven for all of his hungover, slovenly mistakes.
Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber had the task of combining musical theater music with this classic rock feel, and did so with grace and precision that allowed “The School of Rock” of Horace Green Preparatory School to rock the Battle of the Bands. While still maintaining the originally integrity of the classic movie, Lloyd Webber brought something new and exciting to the musical, inviting the audience to be a part of the band, even though they’re not in the band.
As part of the effort to bring the story to life on stage, the musical updates the pop culture that so obviously dated the movie back to the early 2000s. Taylor Swift, Kanye West, fidget spinners and Apple products all have a place at Horace Green as Dewey deems the “boring subjects” like math and social studies “not important,” focusing instead on Rock History and Rock Appreciation and Theory.
While the dialogue of the production was updated, the set and tech of the show was not, effectively breaking the recent trend of elaborate multimedia backdrops and digital set pieces. This refreshing use of original styles of theater helped ground this otherwise high-energy production.
In a musical so full of hyper excitement, the students’ emotional ballad, “If Only You Would Listen,” is a moment of peace in the controlled chaos, and reminds us of the voices of children that are so often brushed aside. As the students of Horace Green are learning how to “Stick it to the Man,” so too are students around the country, rallying for stricter gun control.
True to the original comedy and mildly vulgar humor found in the movie, the musical adaptation of “School of Rock” brings something new to the table as actors take ownership of their character and make the role their own. Character relationships are more deeply and fleshed out, giving the production more layers and adding depth to this otherwise upbeat production.
School of Rock will run at the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore through March 25.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Matthew Murphy.
Morgan Politzer is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.