Wednesday, March 7, 2018

School of Rock Hits All the High Notes

When is the last time you indulged your inner rebel? 


Photo by Matthew Murphy

You know the one - the one that told you not to come into work today, or to sleep in a little later, or to skip the pleasantries and really be honest about how you feel?

Photo by Matthew Murphy

For most of us, it's probably been a little bit too long. As we grow older and get deeper into our careers and the responsibilities pile up, we can - and often do - easily lose the rebel magic that made our younger years so exciting. In that context, it's always timely to remind ourselves of the importance of re-evaluating our overloaded lives and making sure we have time to do things that we truly love and inspire us. For that reminder, there is no better place to look than School of Rock, now showing at the Orpheum Theater.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Based on the film of the same name starring Jack Black, School of Rock tells the story of Dewey, a freeloading, couch potato "rock star" who is on his band, roommate Ned, and Ned's girlfriend Patty's very last nerves. He is simultaneously kicked out of his band and threatened with eviction on the same day, so what does he do? Impersonates Ned to get a job substitute teaching at a nearby prep school in hopes of making enough money to make that month's rent. The stuffy halls of Horace Green are initially a horrible fit, but once Dewey learns the students are musically gifted he realizes he has one last shot at stardom - turning the kids into a rock band to make a last ditch effort at winning the upcoming Battle of the Bands contest. Under the school's radar, Dewey turns the kids into rock stars, unleashes their creativity, and along the way develops a romance and - gasp! - responsibility. The show ends with the students performing at the Battle of the Bands and giving a concert that no one will soon forget.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

It's a funny and heartening story, which is totally sold by the (huge!) cast. Rob Colletti truly channels Jack Black in his role as Dewey, not only displaying a tubular set of pipes but the quirky sense of humor that makes Dewey such a loveable character. Lexie Dorsett Sharp brings a Christina Hendricks-meets-Linda Ronstadt vibe to her role as Principal Rosalie, with a haunting solo in "Where Did the Rock Go?" and rich insight into a character who could have otherwise easily become a parody. The kids in the band are absolutely stellar - yes, they do play all of their own instruments live - and knock the show out of the park. It was such a treat to watch them "grow" on stage, and they make School of Rock truly special. A shoutout too to whomever decided to cast the "parents" of this show - they intentionally display interracial families, same-sex parents, involved fathers and more. It was a subtle but refreshing message of progress, and I really appreciated the unironic way those modern families were presented. As progressive as the casting is, there are a couple of hiccups in the script itself - some unsavory jokes about weight and implications for trans characters among them - and I hope they can fix those to make this more inclusive as School of Rock continues to tour.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

The set almost magically weaves in and out through a dizzying series of stages, from the vaunted halls of the school to Dewey's bedroom to a dive bar and concert halls. It's efficient but still evocative, and I appreciated the efficiency of the design. The costumes are mostly school uniforms and pretty straightforward, but I did enjoy the creative twist made on the uniforms by the end. The lighting design is really fun and brings you straight into a rock show from the get-go. The choreography was fresh and youthful, and despite clocking in at around a three hour run time, the show never feels slow or boring.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

I was really surprised how moved I was by School of Rock. I come from a family of music educators, and it was so touching to see that role truly celebrated on stage. Dewey might be an accidental (and highly unorthodox) teacher, but he intuitively understands the most important role of that profession: it's not test scores or homework or parent teacher conferences, but creating and supporting an environment where children can grow and thrive. Structure is great, but it's not everything.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

In an age where the value of keeping arts in schools is constantly under attack, School of Rock has a very important message to share. It's important for kids - and adults too! - to have a place to explore their creativity and learn about themselves. Abstract thinking is an important skill to develop and imagination is not a waste of time. Music can give a voice to those who otherwise struggle to speak up, and it has so many benefits beyond the concept of play. We've gotten so wrapped up in test scores and over-scheduled activities that we've forgotten to just let kids be kids. Busyness can be just as much a sin as sloth, and it's important to let your hair down once in a while and let loose. Don't always take things at face value; challenge the ones that don't make sense and, as they say, stick it to the man.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

School of Rock touches on so many important themes about the power of youth and the bright futures we will all have if we can just learn to get out of their way. We live in a time when children are leading the way on many important issues - thank goodness they've found their voices. Should we -will we? - listen? School of Rock has a great answer for that. For more information or to buy tickets, click on this link.