Jack Black’s hit movie “School of Rock” comes to life at National Theatre featuring new music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and an amazingly talented cast of children who actually play their rock instruments on stage and are the true stars of the show. I have never heard a Washington, DC audience laugh so loud or cheer so hard as they did this past Thursday evening for the incredible bright young talents who lit up the stage alongside their adult castmates.
… a highly entertaining production that will enchant and entertain adults as well as children with its humor, heart, and incredible displays of talent …
In case you’ve missed the movie (which I highly recommend you see), “School of Rock” is the tale of outcast rock musician Dewey who’s made a living out of mooching off of
The stage version features all of Jack Black’s original songs from the movie (“In the End of Time,” “Math Is a Wonderful Thing”) and is rounded out by a bevy of new musical theatre numbers, some more successful than others, by none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was a bit of a surprise to me to see Webber associated with the show as I wouldn’t have expected him to work on a movie adaptation, but I learned that his wife Madeleine Lloyd Webber was behind the project as she had loved watching the movie with her children and was eager to see it adapted as a stage production. There is a definite sweetness to the show which undoubtedly springs from the very family-centered effort of the Webbers to not only bring the show to life but to showcase phenomenal young talent in doing so.
Merritt David Janes from the original Broadway cast played Dewey in Thursday evening’s performance (and in some performances the role will be played by original West End cast member Gary Trainor). Janes brings a lot of fire to his performance – his rock vocals are stellar, although his lyrics were often unintelligible and I would have appreciated better diction so as to better understand the songs. Janes excels, however, at his choreography, with sharp extensions and dynamic movements. He does an excellent job of capturing Jack Black’s persona with his humorous delivery of lines. One area that would greatly assist the overall impact of the show is Janes’ pacing, as he often rushes from line to line, never pausing for an emotional beat and breath between moments, and rarely taking the time to add a melodramatic nuance to a line with a slower delivery. With improved pacing, I truly believe the show could be elevated to knockout level instead of hovering around ‘very good.’
Individually, there are several knockouts in the cast, however! Lexie Dorsett Sharp as school principal Rosalie delivers an A+ performance. She is snooty, controlled, and haughty as can be, singing Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria in the soprano stratosphere while delivering a no-nonsense approach to her school personnel. When she finally loosens up in the bar towards the end of the show, however, she blew me away with her low soulful vocals and vulnerability on “Where Did the Rock Go?” which was quite the show-stopper, and it was delightful to see her finally apply her authoritative demeanor to defending Dewey and her students at the end of the show.
I also highly acknowledge Costume Designer Anna Louizos for so perfectly capturing Rosalie’s dual personality in her costumes – every school outfit was perfectly and appropriately tailored button-downed business in the front – yet the back of each outfit gave the audience a wink with its too-tight sexiness, hinting at Rosalie’s inner rocker.
Mismatched couple Ned and Patty, played with charm by Layne Roate and Madison Micucci, delighted me throughout the show as they suffered through Dewey and their relationship with perfectly delivered comedy. The ensemble cast also did an excellent job playing roles from tired teachers to stressed out and overbearing parents.
But the undisputed stars of the evening were, without a doubt, the children! Leanne Parks as Katie the bass player was hilarious with her pouty rock face and attitude, not to mention musical talent. Cameron Trueblood as Freddy the drummer rocked the stage in the band and his funniest moments were playing the cymbals with exuberance during “Queen of the Night.” Theo Mitchell-Penner on keys wailed away and melted our hearts when he told his parents that he was “one of the cool kids now.” Mystic Inscho as Zack put out soulful guitar solos with the concentrated ease of a professional. Tomika, the shy vocalist, was played with aplomb by Grier Burke who sang her heart out on stage to thunderous applause during “Amazing Grace” and the reprise of “If Only You Would Listen”
Sami Bray as over-achieving band manager Summer stood up to Dewey with great hilarity and her disastrous rendition of “Memory” had the audience in stitches. Sammy Dell as costume designer Billy portrayed great vulnerability in his tumultuous relationship with his father, especially in his solo on “If Only You Would Listen.” Julian Brescia did a fabulous job as Mason, the nerdy techie who designed the lights for the show. Arianna Pereira and Alyssa Emily Marvin as Shonelle and Marcy, the back-up singers, blended harmonies and dance moves throughout the show with girl group glamour. Jacob Moran as James ran security for the band and Gabriella Uhl as Sophie was a roadie. Although they had smaller jobs in the band, they were valuable ensemble members, adding killer vocals and hard-hitting choreography that rounded out the class and gave needed life and punch to the numbers.
The scenic design by Anna Louizos was brilliantly done to change rapidly from Dewey’s ratty bedroom to a precisely decorated school bedroom to a dive bar to a concert stage, and I think that young audience members especially will enjoy all of the detail and dramatic changes from set to set. JoAnn M. Hunter’s choreography was creative and entertaining, especially on “Stick it to the Man.”
I recommend “School of Rock,” directed by Laurence Connor with musical direction by Martyn Axe, as a highly entertaining production that will enchant and entertain adults as well as children with its humor, heart, and incredible displays of talent and I encourage you not to miss this inspiring production at National Theatre.
Advisory: Recommended for ages 8 and up. Some mild profanity (“damn”) and a shallow rock singer tells an ex to “lose some weight” in his song – younger children may need an explanation that the point is that the singer is a horrible person.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 min. with one intermission.
“School of Rock” is playing at National Theatre through Jan. 27, 2019. For more information, click here.