Kid-powered 'School of Rock' is inspiring and fun

  • Dewey (Rob Colletti), left, rocks out with his student Zack (Phoenix Schuman) in "School of Rock -- The Musical" in its Chicago premiere at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

    Dewey (Rob Colletti), left, rocks out with his student Zack (Phoenix Schuman) in "School of Rock -- The Musical" in its Chicago premiere at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

  • Dewey (Rob Colletti) rocks out with his students in "School of Rock -- The Musical" in its Chicago premiere at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

    Dewey (Rob Colletti) rocks out with his students in "School of Rock -- The Musical" in its Chicago premiere at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

 
 
Updated 11/3/2017 5:38 PM

"School of Rock -- The Musical" -- ★ ★ ★

Don't be surprised if "School of Rock -- The Musical" makes your jaw drop repeatedly. That's because there's so much talent bursting forth from the stage of Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre in this hip and fun show aimed at progressive families.

 

The amazing kids in the tour actually play their own rock instruments (so assures composer Andrew Lloyd Webber in a recorded preshow message). And there's also plenty of local pride to be pulled from "School of Rock" star Rob Colletti.

The native of Glen Ellyn and Wheaton might not obliterate memories of Jack Black, who created the role of rocking faux substitute teacher Dewey Finn in the original 2003 film. Yet the very affable and natural Colletti still amazes as he anchors the show with his challenging marathon role. As Dewey, Colletti repeatedly proves himself as a guitar master, a vocally wailing rock star and a naturally breezy comedian.

Katie (Theodora Silverman) gets advice from substitute teacher Dewey (Rob Colletti) in "School of Rock -- The Musical." The hit 2015 Broadway musical based on the 2003 film makes its Chicago touring premiere through Nov. 19 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
Katie (Theodora Silverman) gets advice from substitute teacher Dewey (Rob Colletti) in "School of Rock -- The Musical." The hit 2015 Broadway musical based on the 2003 film makes its Chicago touring premiere through Nov. 19 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. - Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

As screen-to-stage adaptations go, "School of Rock -- The Musical" comes with an impeccable pedigree by experienced showbiz veterans. "Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes adapted Mike White's screenplay about an out-of-work rock musician who becomes an unconventional creative mentor to a class of buttoned-up prep school kids. There are always plenty of laughs when Dewey pushes up against the appropriateness of exposing his class to the more outrageous elements of a rock 'n' roll lifestyle.

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For the rollicking new score, Lloyd Webber ("Cats," "Evita") hearkens back to his more youthful "Jesus Christ Superstar" rock sound in collaboration with lyricist Glenn Slater ("Love Never Dies," "Sister Act"). Die-hard fans of the original will still hear wacky film songs like "In the End of Time" and "Math is a Wonderful Thing," but the new Lloyd Webber/Slater material like "I'm Too Hot for You," "You're in the Band" and "Stick It to the Man" will also have you head-bopping along. More crucially, other story- and character-advancing songs skillfully flesh out the emotional moments. Kids like Zack (Phoenix Schuman), Tomika (Gianna Harris) and Billy (John Michael Pitera) all get to shine in the distraught song "If Only You Would Listen," which is aimed at their controlling parents. And Lexie Dorsett Sharp exposes a more vulnerable side to her uptight school principal Rosalie Mullins in the reflective ballad "Where Did the Rock Go?"

Substitute teacher Dewey (Rob Colletti) plots to bring out the dormant rocker chick within school principal Rosalie Mullins (Lexie Dorsett Sharp) in "School of Rock -- The Musical." It runs through Nov. 19 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
Substitute teacher Dewey (Rob Colletti) plots to bring out the dormant rocker chick within school principal Rosalie Mullins (Lexie Dorsett Sharp) in "School of Rock -- The Musical." It runs through Nov. 19 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. - Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

The only weak link in the score is the comic "Faculty Quadrille" for Dewey's jealous and baffled full-time co-workers -- it's just not as clever or focused as it could be.

Director Laurence Connor coaxes out great performances from both the kids in the cast (like Ava Briglia as the exacting teacher's pet Summer and Theo Mitchell-Penner as the insecure pianist Lawrence) and the grown-ups, too (Matt Bittner is a joy as Dewey's nervy former bandmate Ned). Yet the whole show could bear with some fine-tuning with the comic timing since throwaway physical humor bits could garner heartier laughs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The production also moves smoothly along with the expert help of great designers. Set and costume designer Anna Louizos expertly contrasts the polished prep-school world with trashy rock bar dives, while lighting designer Natasha Katz goes all out with flashy concert effects for the "Battle of the Bands" finale.

Faux substitute teacher Dewey (Rob Colletti), in yellow, unnerves the full-time prep school staff in "School of Rock -- The Musical."
Faux substitute teacher Dewey (Rob Colletti), in yellow, unnerves the full-time prep school staff in "School of Rock -- The Musical." - Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

"School of Rock" could have been just silly fun with its kids acting beyond their ages like hard-core rocking adults. But the show carries an important message of how music (and the arts in general) can be an inclusive and collaborative way for kids to express themselves and process bottled-up emotions.

Watching how an iconoclast like Dewey shapes a group of insecure kids by artistically building up their confidence is undeniably inspirational. And don't be surprised if pangs of envy strike, too, since everyone onstage in "School of Rock" looks like they're having tremendous fun.

• • •

Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also Sunday, Nov. 5); 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday (also Wednesday); through Nov. 19

Tickets: $27-$98

Running time: About 2 hours, 30 minutes, with intermission

Parking: Parking garages and limited metered street parking

Rating: Largely for general audiences (except for some slang)

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