There are some things in Broadway San Jose’s touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “School of Rock” that positively shred. That part of the show starts and finishes with a deluge of delightful performances from kids who are slicing up instruments that outweigh them by 20 pounds. The guitar, the drums, the bass, the skill and the delight take their places in the sublime category.
Yet, there is plenty in the show that must be shredded, and that is mostly a good chunk of everything else.
The national tour of “School of Rock” has a fair amount of charm going for it. The premise is certainly preposterous and downright silly. You’d have a hard time calling the show’s protagonist Dewey Finn childlike because he behaves worse than most children, worse than the ones he sneakily inherits. But for Dewey (a fun and energetic Merritt David Janes), whose mission in his garage rock band is to badly harmonize whenever the hell he wants, rent money becomes a very real issue.
Well, the rent isn’t all that important for his roommate and fellow rocker wannabe Ned Schneebly (a charming Layne Roate). Dewey and Ned’s guitar hero dreams are built by playing Guitar Hero,” where their abilities to sync their riffs is sharp. But Ned’s girlfriend Patty (Madison Micucci) needs some more maturity from Ned and is starting to run out of patience with her man and the moocher.
Ned’s fortunes are about to change, but Dewey intercepts a call for Ned’s services as a substitute teacher at uppity Horace Green School. And Dewey goes in there and starts teaching these kids that all this learning stuff is for the tone-deaf birds.
This is where the show is well intentioned, but inane and preposterous. These kids, who could probably use a bit more fun in their lives, are made to believe that even desiring to do math only works in the context of how many it takes to make a band. And this musical talent that is housed under one roof, talent that Dewey now has at his fingertips, is his key to win the Battle of the Bands and its cash prize in the tens of thousands.
While Dewey has his challenges being a functional adult, he runs into the stern taskmaster Rosalie (booming talent Lexie Dorsett Sharp). Their arc together goes in some absurdly predictable directions.
While the story is ridiculous, what cannot be denied is that this show is all about the kids. Adults here do not function with any ounce of multiple dimensions in Julian Fellowes confounding script. Adults provide that essential foil, which includes being overbearing, with unreal expectations, and trip over themselves with both clumsiness and pride.
There are some wonderful compositions that are delightful and insightful. “When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock” is a showcase of which Janes takes full advantage. “Stick it to the Man,” “You’re in the Band” and “School of Rock” all rock. And “Where Did the Rock Go” is wistful and warm, a highly skilled belt fest by Sharp. So many of these numbers were enhanced greatly by the witty and show-stopping choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter.
This show soars on the children that make up this phenomenal band, with emphasis on the important announcement that happens just before the show. It’s led with the fantastic drumming talents of Cameron Trueblood as Freddy who positively makes the toms and the skins dance. There’s also the fantabulous bass work from Leanne Parks as Katie, the sick keyboards from super charming Julian Brescia as Lawrence and his costume which looks like it came straight out of Mamma Mia. In addition to some fierce backup vocals from Ariana Pereira as Shonelle and Alyssa Emily Marvin’s Marcy, the highlight is certainly certifiable badass guitarist Mystic Inscho as Zack, who tears up plenty of solos.
Certainly, despite its predictability, when the deathly quiet Tomika, played by supreme vocalist Camille De La Cruz, lets it wale in a sharp rendition of “Amazing Grace,” the chills meter goes to 11.
Taking the show for what its worth, “School of Rock” is a simplistic storyline that provides some good laughs sprinkled in with a surreal dose of child artistry. The show seems not to hide that fact that they believe the children are our future.
Teach them well and let them shred away.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Broadway San Jose presents “School of Rock”
Written by Julian Fellowes
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Laurence Connor
The Word: A cartoonish, buffoonish story line doesn’t help, but it certainly doesn’t hurt the surreal talents of the students of the School of Rock.
Stars: 3 out of 5
Through June 9th
San Jose Center for Performing Arts
255 S. Almaden Blvd, San Jose, CA 95113
Tickets range from $43 – $158
For tickets, call (800) 982-2787 or visit www.broadwaysanjose.com