School of Rock Rocks!

SchoolofRockPPACOkee dokee folks… The Providence Performing Arts Center was bustling on a Tuesday night for the opening night of School of Rock in Providence. All ages filled the PPAC auditorium and even though it was a (regular) school night, junior theater-goers were strongly represented.

Many of you may have seen or are familiar with the 2003 film School of Rock starring Jack Black. Based on the success of that movie, a musical adapted from the movie, with new music by Andrew Lloyd Weber, premiered in 2015. Lloyd Weber, along with Julian Fellows and Glenn Slater, created this new musical and introduced School of Rock to a new audience. The story follows passionate rocker Dewey Finn as he is kicked out of his band No Vacancy and into a fraudulent role as a substitute teacher at an uppity prep school. As a way to keep up the con of substitute, he teaches the students how to be in a rock band when he learns of their musical talents. His ultimate goal is to have the kids compete in the Battle of the Bands contest.

The house lights dimmed and a dude-like voice came over the loud speaker proclaiming that all the kids in the musical do in fact actually play the instruments in the show. A smoke machine activated and a light fog descended on the stage to accent the band No Vacancy who were performing their heavy metal type number “I’m Too Hot For You.” The band were agitated by guitar player Dewey Finn and kicked him out of the band, which starts the sequence of events that make up the musical.

If you know anything about Jack Black then you know about his off-kilter style of comedic acting but you may not know about his actual music career with Tenacious D. They are a quirky, “lampoonish,” pseudo heavy metal duo. This is the musical style of many of the rock numbers in the show. Tenacious D’s music, Jack Black’s bizarre comedy approach and maybe even a little Spinal Tap seems to have heavily influenced the musical. The score consists of rock, pop and straight-on Broadway musical genres.

The first 10 minutes are enjoyable but (I never in my life thought I would say this) the show really takes off when the kids enter the mix. They add heart, soul, comedy, energy and inspiration to every second they are on stage. Rightfully so, they own the show. Dewey teaches the rock and roll attitude to the kids culminating in the best number of the night, “Stick It To The Man.” The song is an anthem for rebellion and the kids nail it with their vocal delivery and dance. Yes, there are adults in the show and the main adult performers in the cast — Dewey and Principal Rosalie Mullins — are great in their roles but the kids ARE the show.

Most of the dialogue is comical, garnering frequent bouts of laughter from the audience. A few of the actors pull double duty during the performance and take on dual roles. The set is simple but quite clever. It is made up of flying and sliding panels of classroom and brick walls or concert scaffolding. When it’s not being moved by stage hands, the kids and adults are swinging walls and sliding desks. The show builds to its climactic finish at the Battle of the Bands and the only song that carried over from the film, “School of Rock (Teacher’s Pet),” is performed by Dewey and the band of kids. Chanting from the fictional audience as well as the real audience compels an encore of “Stick It To The Man” and the rest of the cast joins in to close out the show.

I wasn’t sure how I would like this musical. While you all know of my love and passion for music, which is why I felt the need to cover this performance, I am, however, NOT a big fan of Jack Black. Fortunately the musical version of the Dewey character was spared the heavy annoyance of Black’s version of this character, but kept just enough to make it work. You may also know (or may not) that I am not a huge fan of kid performers. Surprisingly I LOVED these kids and so did the audience. Their performances generated the biggest applause and lots of hoots and hollers! I really did enjoy School of Rock! It is a LOT of fun! If you love music, loved the film, love Broadway musicals, or have kids and want to inspire them then you MUST rock on over to PPAC and catch School of Rock. Any age will go home from the show with a smile on their face and songs in their head. Go get schooled!

The School of Rock musical will be at at PPAC until Sunday, March 3. For more, “Mount Rock” to PPACRI.org

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. JohnFuzek.com

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