Wednesday, October 4, 2017

School of Rock (Broadway)

When Dewey (Conner John Gillooly) is kicked out from the band that he himself has formed, he refuses to take responsibility and moves in with his best friend Ned (Steven Booth), much to the chagrin of the latter’s girlfriend Patty (Becky Gulsvig) who calls him out for being the freeloader that he is. When Rosalie (Jenn Gambatese), the principal of elite school Horace Green, phones Ned’s residence for an urgent substitute teaching position, Dewey pretends to be his friend. Blinded by the weekly USD950 salary he can use to join the Battle of the Bands, he goes to class and tries to wing it, but sees actual potential in his students after hearing them play classical music. He then comes up with an even brighter idea: He will teach his students how to rock and recruit them to form his new band. But how far can he go with his game of make-believe before the parents eventually figure out what’s really going on?

I thought I was going to be bored but when the kids started playing their instruments, somehow, I was suddenly beaming like a proud uncle. I wasn’t alone in that sentiment, though. The kid playing the drums, for instance, got an impromptu applause halfway, which is unusual because in theater you usually wait for the whole scene to end before you clap so as not to interrupt the performance. Listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s voice recording at the beginning telling you that the kids will be playing their instruments live, you just end up admiring the abundance of talent. Perhaps that, in itself, is the strength of this musical.

There has been a variety of musical offerings involving classrooms as a setting. Spring Awakening as well as last season’s Matilda come to mind. The difference is that School of Rock is very particular in terms of genre. It’s more pop rock, which means the vocal style the actors use in their song numbers could be a bit difficult to absorb at first if you are used to musicals that have a more polished soundtrack. Nevertheless, you will end up loving the song and dance numbers, if only for the effort these kids put on to give you a good show. It feels like a triumph in child-rearing, seeing how awesome children can be when pushed to realize their potential. That is true not only for the students of Horace Green, but also for the child actors portraying them. That’s probably where the enthusiastic audience response comes from.

However, there’s more to School of Rock than just rocking. There are legit issues discussed here, important ones which affect the molding of an adolescent’s personality and character: the need to belong; the current educational system; alternative methods of teaching; fighting for your dreams. Even if you couldn't relate to some of them anymore, you are sure to find a theme reflecting your current dilemmas in life. Personally, what I’ve noticed is that when I first saw the movie version a decade ago, I could identify well with the school children. Seeing the same material onstage now that I am in my 30’s, I couldn’t help but relate to Dewey, caught in between pursuing his lifelong dream and surviving adulthood.

You also have some touching scenes. That scene where the kid on the keyboard approaches Dewey and tells him that he can’t join the band because he’s not cool made me choke a bit. The reaction was so involuntary that I had to wonder where the heck did it come from. Perhaps it touched a nerve and activated a bad elementary or high school memory hiding somewhere in my subconscious? It’s as such that when they finally get their act together by empowering each other that you get to genuinely feel this heartwarming effect of human empathy. You will always have haters who will drag you down, but there is always someone out there willing to lift you up. For that reason, School of Rock is as feel-good as feel-good can be.

The final two performances in the form of rock ensemble songs at the Battle of the Bands do leave you rocking. It’s as though you smoothly transitioned from watching a Broadway musical to enjoying a legit concert. Again, the kids play their respective instruments live and even get their own solos on the spotlight. Overall, we can say that School of Rock starts slow, but it eventually simmers and gives you a touching material full of comedy, teenage angst, and rock.

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