By Kimberly Rau
This weekend, The Providence Performing Arts Center is hosting School of Rock, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on the 2003 movie starring Jack Black. Musicals from movies are always sort of a gamble, but in this case, it’s a win.
In a nutshell, Dewey Finn is a deadbeat guitarist who loses his job and his band in the same week. His roommate and best friend Ned, who is somehow gainfully employed as a substitute teacher, is under pressure from his domineering fiancée Patty, and gives him an ultimatum: Pay the rent or hit the bricks. Under a set of circumstances that would never actually happen in today’s age of social media and background checks, Dewey intercepts a phone call and poses as Ned to become a substitute teacher at one of the city’s most elite private schools. He’s an odd fit, to say the least, but when he realizes all of his students can play instruments, he decides to forego any academic lesson plans and teach them how to play rock. His goal is to get them to compete in the Battle of the Bands that he was supposed to enter with his old band, No Vacancy. The kids learn how to be in a band and work as a team, the principal, Rosalie, gets a little less tightly wound, and Ned remembers his true roots as a hardcore rock and roll enthusiast, and even Patty gets over herself eventually. It’s a fun, simple story that works well for adding musical numbers and this show is one where the kids really get a chance to shine.
For starters, all of the kids play their own instruments. This is especially impressive because none of them look older than 11 or so. Mystic Inscho plays Zack, the guitarist who’s anxious to get his dad’s attention and approval. His playing skills are seriously solid, as are those of percussionist Freddy (Cameron Trueblood) and former cellist turned bass player Katie (Leanne Parks). Camille de la Cruz plays the shy Tomika, but watch out–her voice is one of the best in the show. Sami Bray as Summer doesn’t get a lot of solo time (her character is supposed to be a terrible singer but an excellent type-A band manager) but she has amazing stage presence and, when we do get a chance to hear her, a strong, clear voice.
Merritt David Janes is a great Dewey, evoking shades of Jack Black but not attempting to mimic him. His voice, his acting and physical comedy skills are all solid and he has great chemistry both with the kids and with Lexie Dorsett Sharp, who plays principal Rosalie. Sharp herself has a great voice, but unfortunately her solo number is one of the weakest-written in the show. I would have liked to hear more from her.
Standout vocal numbers include “Stick It to the Man,” “You’re in the Band,” and, thanks to de la Cruz’s powerhouse voice, “Amazing Grace.” The choreography is stylish and well-executed, the set and costumes are basically what you’d expect, but all of the elements add up to a truly entertaining night out. There is some mild bad language and a few flipping-off gestures, but otherwise, this would be a great show to bring older kids to, especially if they are fans of the film.
School of Rock runs through Sunday, March 3 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at ppacri.org or by calling 401.421.2787.