One might think that the talents behind Downtown Abbey and Phantom of the Opera would be odd choices to make a Broadway musical out of a 2003 comedy starring Jack Black.
One would be correct. School of Rock, now on the San Francisco stop of its National Tour, is Julian Fellowes and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s overblown take on that modest film whose charm relied mostly on one’s appreciation of its star.
Dewey Finn (Rob Colletti, doing Jack Black-light) has been kicked out of his band, has no visible means of support and is months behind on the rent due his best friend Ned (Matt Bittner). After receiving an ultimatum from Ned’s girlfriend (a shrewish Emily Borromeo) to raise the money or get out, he answers a phone call seeking Ned’s services as a substitute teacher. Since subbing obviously requires no skills at all, Dewey decides he can impersonate Ned and make some quick money.
Soon it’s off to the toney Horace Green Academy where Dewey takes charge of an elementary class whose students have one thing in common – their parents all ignore them. When Dewey discovers he’s got a musically gifted group of kids, he hits upon the idea of creating a band and entering them in a competition. How long can he fool the stern headmistress (Lexie Dorsett Sharp, doing Joan Cusack-light) and bring his plan to fruition? Well, almost to the end of the show’s two hour and 40 minute running time, which is about an hour longer than the film took to tell the story, albeit with less music – which isn’t a bad thing.
Webber’s score is his least memorable as may be this entire production. The characters are all one dimensional. Every adult comes off poorly (except, of course, Dewey, who is not what one would think of as a role model) with every parent self-absorbed, every educator an idiot and every child a prodigy. The kids are talented musicians – yes, they play their own instruments – but when it comes to acting, not so much. To be fair, they’re on stage a lot, the choreography requires them to jump up and down a great deal, and they spend a fair amount of time moving set pieces. Maybe that’s a lot to ask of a group of pre-teens.
The best parts of the show, beyond the kids’ musical performances, are drawn straight from Mike White’s film script. There are laughs, but kids deserve a better School than this. This School simply doesn’t make the grade.
‘School of Rock’ runs Tuesday through Sunday through July 22 at the SHN Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. Show times vary.
For more information, go to SHNSF.com