Playwright: Julian Fellowes
At: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. Tickets: BroadwayInChicago.com; $27 and up. Runs through: Nov. 19
The musical version of School of Rock opens with a cover band called No Vacancy playing music in concert.
The band's guitarist, Dewey Finn, tries to upstage the lead singer and problems soon arise. Immediately, this scene sets the tone for the show. The band is not entertainingly bad or funny, so the audience is already not sure how to react. This was setting out to be long night.
Next, we switch to Finn's bedroom, where he eventually steals his roommate's identity and takes his job as a substitute teacher. He eventually trains his students to become a legitimate rock band and has them compete in a contest to prove their worth.
It seems like a simple and fun plot. The 2013 film this musical is based on what was a crowd-pleaser and the characters are easy to like. What could go wrong? The running time comes to mind, for one thing. Why does the musical version last almost an hour longer than the movie? Because Andrew Lloyd Webber and the gang have expanded it way beyond what it needs to be.
Unnecessary teacher-lounge scenes and some Scooby-Doo antics of running around the school should have been cut, among other things. There is a lot of singing where it doesn't need to be and there are only a few memorable songs for that matter. For example, Principal Rosalie Mullins sings "Where Did the Rock Go?" in a bar. It awkwardly just doesn't work and drags on for a while. Actress Lexie Dorsett Sharp, who plays her, just doesn't have the chops to stand out and made me miss Joan Cusack's delivery in the movie.
Rob Colletti channels some of the humor of Jack Black, but none of the facial expressions. Black's version of Finn in the original flick had the comedian conveying real excitement for the art of rock and roll. His antics do not translate to the back of the room in the touring show, unfortunately, and Colletti just looks exhausted trying.
There is an old show-business adage of never working with children or animals because they will undoubtably steal the show. They definitely do in this case. These little traveling performers play their own instruments and are truly talented in big ways. The students rendition of "If Only You Would Listen" is worth the price of admission alone.
Some parts in the show were updated such as adding a Taylor Swift joke and a Facebook shoutout, while others are still stuck in the past, like playing Guitar Hero and stereotypical gay snaps in the air.
School of Rock has hints of Spring Awakening, Billy Elliot and Matilda mixed in, and that is when the musical truly shines. Who wants to be a cover band, though? There is a great show buried in there somewhere and, with some homework, this musical could have earned a much better grade.