There are two things that are critical to the success of any musical comedy: It must be fun and it must be heartfelt. School of Rock – The Musical is certainly fun, but it lacks the heart to become a classic.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical interpretation of the Jack Black film, School of Rock follows want-to-be rock star Dewey. He’s down on his luck and just got kicked out of the band he created just before they compete in the Battle of the Bands. Worst of all, his best friend (and landlord), Ned, is demanding the rent—or rather, his controlling girlfriend is demanding the rent. To solve his problem, Dewey decides to impersonate Ned and take a job as a substitute teacher at an elite elementary school. Out of his element, Dewey struggles to wrangle a class of high-achieving students until he discovers that they can play music. Suddenly, all of Dewey’s problems are solved and he sets out to win the Battle of the Bands with the students as his band mates.
The best I can say for this play is that it is not boring. The upbeat music and the kids’ amazing talent makes the show a fun and entertaining watch, if not a memorable one.
It is truly the kids that shine in this show. Full of energy and commitment to their roles, the child actors bring much-needed life to this play. With a predicable plot and not many opportunities for character development, the kids are a breath of fresh air. Despite being shoved into stereotypical roles, the child actors bring heart and commitment to every moment they spend on stage. They play their own instruments live on stage while singing, dancing and acting—a feat many adult actors would not be able to accomplish.
It’s the adults’ roles that end up falling short, despite the best efforts of the cast. Every single adult within the school fails the children in their care repeatedly throughout the show. The parents’ interactions with their children feel more like stories heard third-hand rather than legitimate interactions between kids and their parents. Furthermore, when Dewey “opens the eyes” of the other teachers and parents at the end of the show, their reactions are overblown and absurd. Again, it’s an issue with the script and overall story rather than with this performance, but it made me unable to enjoy the show. Then again, Andrew Lloyd Webber isn’t exactly known for picking his projects based on plot.
The show is undeniably fun. The hard rocking vibe of Dewey and the absurdity of having a roomful of kids in uniforms singing “Stick it to the Man” is undeniably funny. It’s silly and full of fun little quips, but, despite the actors’ best efforts, the show overall lacks any sort of emotional core.
School of Rock – The Musical is playing now through June 9, 2019 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 S. Almaden Boulevard. Tickets range from $43 to $153. Please be aware that this show utilizes strobe lights.
Photos courtesy of Matt Murphy