Entertainment » Theatre

School of Rock

by Adam Brinklow
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jul 5, 2018
Coletti and members of the children's band in "School of Rock."
Coletti and members of the children's band in "School of Rock."  

The Broadway tour of "School of Rock," now headlining the Orpheum Theatre, is a bit of a cheat in that the premise of the story is also in many ways the reality of the show.

The child actors who make up the titular band really do play all of their own instruments, and so in a sense really are the fictional band at the center of the program. And of course this is also a cheat in the sense that since the kids are good, it amounts almost to a golden ticket for the rest of the production.

Not because a menagerie of rock & roll preteens is a quick and easy path to the heart of all but the most cynical audiences. (Although it is.)

But also because this 2015 Tony nominee, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber of all people, has the smarts to make the kids' roles as broad and substantive as possible. So once they nail it, the rest of piece is over the hump almost by default.

Technically the lead in this adaptation of the 2003 Richard Linklater movie is Coletti as Dewey, a down and out loser with dreams of musical stardom.

In the opening scene he's kicked out of his own band for upstaging the singer in concert, and this is a shrewd introduction, as it's clear from Coletti's stage presence that he really is the superior performer.

Although his first solo "When I Climb To the Top of Mount Rock" makes his voice sound surprisingly timid (especially compared to the sterling choir of the kids), he's still able to channel casual charisma into an apparently effortless performance.

Unfortunately, Jack Black played the lead in the movie, and try though he might, Coletti has a hard time escaping the trap of impersonating Black, whether by his own designs or those of director Laurence Connor.

It's also unfortunate that film allegiance demands Dewey be a clodpole who's abusive to the kids after scamming his way into a teaching job at a hyper militant prep school that he hopes will pay off his debts.

We all know this formula: He'll become some approximation of a better person after eventually bonding with the kids, whom he conscripts into a new band for himself and cons into playing his upcoming gig.

We'd be lying if we said the "School of Rock" polluted sense of humor wasn't sufficiently amusing. But the line between what's supposed to be funny and what's actually horrifying here should really not be so thin.

By a similar token, "School of Rock" runs headlong into the same problem that "A Walk On the Moon" suffers across town. Once again we have a musical adaptation of a movie for which the soundtrack was pivotal to the film's identity, and once again the show is able to employ almost none of that music for itself.

Of course, there's Webber here to make up the difference. Some of his numbers flake away into forgettability - an ensemble song about the pristine rep of the school is followed by an interchangeable sounding solo by prim principal Lexie Dorsett Sharp - but he seems to have a little fun with the revelrous rock numbers.

Note that everyone must have known that the maliciously catchy "Stick It To the Man" was the best of the lot, as it enjoys multiple reprises in the second act. Good luck ever getting that one out of your head.

If "School of Rock" gave us any reason to really care about Dewey or even any insight into rock & roll, it might have done better for itself.

That said, the kids pull this whole show up by their bootstraps. Particular praise properly goes to Theodora Silverman on bass and Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton on drums, and to Grier Burke's powerhouse solos.

Despite the pure showmanship of the kids at their instruments, the best application of the young cast is in the more quiet and somber group number "If Only You Would Listen."

Although the notion of neglected younglings fretting over workaholic parents is thin and tried, there's real vulnerability in their vocals.

More importantly, there's also the acknowledgement that the show has to give us something to sympathize with beyond just their presence onstage, without which the rest might not succeed nearly as well as it does.

"School of Rock" plays through July 22, at the Orpheum, 1192 Market Street. For tickets and information, call 888-746-1799 or visit ShnSF.com.

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