“School of Rock” opens like a concert, complete with smoke, sweeping red lights and a rock band performing with guitars and drums.
Then walls of a bedroom, and later, school maps and doors slide in, transitioning the concert opening into a musical and introducing the reality of the main character’s unsuccessful music career. Throughout the show, Dewey Finn (Rob Colletti) and four of his young students play live, resulting in an engaging performance with both hit numbers and intriguing characters. The national tour of “School of Rock,” the musical adaption of the 2003 movie of the same name, opened Thursday and will run up until May 27 at the Hollywood Pantages theater.
Dewey, as a substitute teacher, convinces his students to form a rock band by explaining the importance of rock with the song “Stick It to the Man” – a rock jam about standing up to rule makers. Dewey riles the kids, building energy by asking what makes them angry and leading them to punch the air with their fists while stomping their feet and nodding their heads. The belted, punchy notes, along with a few screamed lines and the electric guitar, created an atmosphere of rebellion and intense energy.
Colletti’s Dewey Finn pulled off the intense rocker personality with his arrogantly confident body language and raspy vocals. But his character wasn’t one-dimensional – in other parts of the show, he expressed his goofy side, sliding on a rolling speaker on his belly and physically shaking the kids to get them to “loosen up.” The height of Colletti’s performance, however, occurred when Dewey exchanged his usual outgoing demeanor for sincere gratitude. Following one performance, he group-hugged his students and told them – his voice cracking and nose sniffling – how proud he was of them.
The children also succeeded in embodying their characters through telling body language and facial expressions. Cello-player-turned-bassist Katie (Theodora Silverman) nodded her two pigtails while pooching her lips, and lead guitarist Zack (Vincent Molden) bent his knee and tilted his torso to the side, transforming the kids from upright, quiet students to confident, hip rockers. The costumes also helped showcase their transformation, the burgundy uniforms altering into band costumes with added accessories such as feathered shoulder pads, neckties for headbands and colored hair extensions.
Grier Burke as Tomika, the shy, slouched-girl-turned-sassy lead singer of the band, stood out from her middle school peers. In the second act, after expressing her aspiration to be a lead singer in the band instead of just a backup singer, she comes center stage, closing her eyes and planting her feet while belting “Amazing Grace,” scoring her a spot in their ensemble.
Though the show featured many strong solo moments, the most powerful musical numbers in the show were the group numbers. The goose bumps-inducing number “If Only You Would Listen” expressed the students’ needs to be heard after their parents ignore their individual interests, particularly in music. The song is later reprised by the four band members, band manager Summer (Iara Nemirovsky) and Tomika, who sing to Dewey about how he gave them voices, showing the impact he has on the students through teaching them rock music.
Though “School of Rock” is a high-energy and joke-filled show, it weaves in hearty ballads that comment on the pressure and expectations behind student life. The show’s plethora of jokes and funny character moments created a very entertaining experience, but what made the show more than a comedy was its message on the transformative power of music. The combination of character development and high-energy rock songs made the musical a standout performance, earning a standing ovation even before curtain call began.