BY SANDY STAGGS
Who would have thought a Jack Black movie would make successful fodder for a Broadway musical?
Based on the 2003 “School of Rock,” the first of three Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals this season – “Phantom of the Opera” returns in January and the sequel set on Coney Island “Love Never Dies” plays in June 2018 – stormed the Peace Center last night with all of the hype of an AC/DC concert played by “The Little Rascals.”
And it’s those energetic fifth graders that nearly steal this show from the adult actors.
With Webber’s rock riffs (from light metal to balladic pop), lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a book by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”), “School of Rock” is hard not to adore, or at the very least, admire.
The story is ripped right from the hit movie, the highest-grossing musical comedy film until “Pitch Perfect 2”: a down-on-his-luck rock star-wannabee slob (played here by a lovable Rob Colletti) is kicked out of his own band and about to be evicted from his apartment when he impersonates his substitute teacher roommate at a prestigious prep school.
Hungover and clearly a fish out of water, he has a rock epiphany when he sees his students performing in a classical music class.
Beyond the gaze of tightly-wound (with a torque wrench) principal Rosalie Mullins (a proper and classy Lexie Dorsett Sharp), he eschews those boring subjects such as math and social studies and recruits the kids into a hard-rock band called the School of Rock with the goal of competing at the Battle of the Bands.
And yes, as the show’s intro spells out, the kids (fans of Taylor Swift and Kanye West) really do play rock and roll, though none of them have even heard of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin or AC/DC.
There’s the spectacular Zack (Phoenix Schuman) on electric guitar, groovy cellist Katie (Theodora Silverman) on bass, nerdy pianist Lawrence (Theo Mitchell-Penner) on keyboard, and dynamic Freddy Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton) on the skins.
Two of the young ladies Shonelle (Olivia Bucknor) and Marcy (the energetic Chloe Anne Garcia) become back-up singers; teacher’s pet and taskmaster Summer (Ava Briglia) is the band’s manager; obviously gay Billy (John Michael Pitera) is the stylist; and shy newcomer Tomika (Gianna Harris) blooms as the band’s female soloist.
Listen closely and you will hear early Webber chords from “Jesus Christ Superstar” and even phrases from “Phantom.” And there are a handful of catchy tunes that will stick with you on the drive home: the infamous band formation scene “You’re in the Band” with sampling of the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple and even Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” and the humorous protest anthem “Stick It to the Man.”
On the lighter side, the youth effectively tug at their parents’ (and our) heartstrings in “If Only You Would Listen” The leading lady in the role embodied by Joan Cusack in the film, Ms. Sharp is electric in the bar scene scored by Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” where her inner rock goddess emerges. And you really root for her to her to unfurl her hair and go full-on rocker chick. Instead, the writers take a different tact with a huge payoff as Ms. Sharp dazzles in the lovely ballad of lament “Where Did the Rock Go?”
“School of Rock” is entirely predictable, even if you have not seen the film and slightly longer than necessary. But it is Andrew Lloyd Webber and deeply-engrossing nonetheless.
“School of Rock” continues through Sunday at the Peace Center, 300 South Main Street in Greenville. Call (864) 467-3000 or visit http://www.peacecenter.org.