"School of Rock," the latest musical-from-a-movie to arrive at Shea's Performing Arts Center, is a jamming celebration of the fact that girls (and boys) just want to have fun -- even the kids at one of the country's most exclusive fictional private schools.
So, when a substitute teacher arrives with no lesson plans, and really no plans at all beyond his dream of being a rock star, the talented young students seize the day. Before you can say Jeremiah was a bull frog, the classroom is rockin'. Mild chaos ensues before the loud and happy ending, and it is a joy ride almost all the way.
Jack Black had his first star turn in Richard Linklater's 2003 movie of the same name, playing Dewey Finn, a schlumpy but energetic guitarist. Chronically out of work and unapologetically out of shape, Dewey lucks into a chance to make some quick money by posing as his teacher-roommate, Ned Schneebly, when he is called in as a sub at the exclusive Horace Green Prep School.
The movie worked because of the unlikely sweetness Black brought to the role. Dewey has sponged off of others constantly in his life, and continues to do so, lying effortlessly to smooth over the bumps. He could come across as a real jerk. Somehow, he doesn't. Maybe because, in one area, he is unwaveringly true to the school -- and that is the school of rock.
Rob Colletti takes over the role of Dewey for the touring musical, and does a solid job channeling Black's enthusiasm, and physique. His Dewey is a little rougher, but these kids are also tougher, and they can take it.
Julian Fellowes, creator of "Downton Abbey," added some clever touches when he wrote the book for the show, summing up Dewey's situation deftly when, he tells his roommates who want the rent, "I am so sick and tired of being the guy everybody comes to for the money I owe them."
Once in the classroom, Dewey, aka Mr. Schneebly now, quickly discovers his students' hidden talents and realizes they can make good use of their time preparing for a Battle of the Bands. The classically trained fifth-graders embrace the idea of rocking out, and it's really fun watching the young cast as they show off their stuff. These kids are real singers and real musicians, but they also are real kids, and you can tell that they are enjoying their time in the spotlight.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater wrote more than a dozen new songs for the show, and the kids get the best one, an in-your-face anthem called "Stick It to the Man," which easily could have "school's out FOREVER" and a chorus of "We don't need no education" slipped into its lyrics. The 12-year-old who saw the show with me (and loved it) was singing that one on the way home. Of course.
There's no dark sarcasm in this classroom. The kids are the stars, and the adults let them shine as they make enough noise to finally get their parents' ears and have them listen to them.
The grown-ups do have their moments. Lexie Dorsett Sharp at the tight-laced school principal might be singing for the adults in the audience as she laments her lost freedom in "Where Did the Rock Go?" The parents and teachers are all well-played and properly confused, and the guys in Dewey's old wannabe rock band are suitably mediocre compared with the School of Rockers.
At 2 hours and 10 minutes, the show is longish, and some of the music begins to feel repetitive (a hazard in the rock genre anyway). There is some profanity, if that's a concern about bringing younger kids, and an overly stereotypical part for a boy who is finding himself in fashion design, but overall it's family-friendly for the way life is lived in 2018.
"School of Rock"
3 stars (out of four)
The popular Jack Black film comes to the stage with more music and a cadre of outstanding young performers. Performances are 7:30 p.m. April 4 and 5, 8 p.m. April 6, 2 and 8 p.m. April 7, 2 and 7 p.m. April 8 at Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St. Tickets are $32 to $87. Visit sheas.org or call 847-0850.