“Stick It to the Man!” A chant? A battle cry? An earworm. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s catchy rebel yell of a song appears toward the end of the first act of his electric stage adaptation of “School of Rock” and lingers long after the curtain falls at the close of play. And while earworms can irk, this one — for now — sparks a pleasant reminder of a joyful and fun little show. Later today, I may be in need of the earworm cure, but for now, I’m “in the band.”
Adapted for the stage by Lloyd Weber, lyricist Glenn Slater and librettist Julian Fellows (yes, of “Downton Abbey” fame), the story of slacker Dewey Finn and his adventures in teaching skew little from the plot of the 2003 Jack Black comedy.
Newly booted from his band, desperate Dewey impersonates his roommate Ned Schneebly when Ned gets a gig as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. When Dewey discovers that the kids can play music, he sees an opportunity to make some cash at a Battle of the Bands competition using his new students, if he can get them to toss the Liszt and pick up the Led Zeppelin.
Chances are if you loved the film, you’ll love the musical as a good deal of it is up on the stage. Lloyd Weber and Slater’s score follow the adaptation assignment to perfection — tuneful and loud — and deserve extra credit for some softer sounds such as the beautiful “If Only You Would Listen” which the children sing in act one.
Merritt Davis Janes is perfect as the lovable schlub Dewey Finn. Whether rockin’ out when handing out band assignments (“You’re in the Band”) or rockin’ out when he’s coaxing the kids to “Stick it to the Man” or rockin’ out when teaching the children that “Math is a Wonderful Thing” (yes, that memorable little ditty is in the musical), Janes’ charisma and winning charm/smarm is unstoppable. Lexie Dorsett Sharp’s Ms. Mullins, appropriately stern and starchy with just the right touch of silly, delivers a wonderful look inward with “Where Did the Rock Go?”
The pit band, under the musical direction of Martin Axe, is fierce, but it is rightfully upstaged by the energy and excitement of the kids in the classroom. As confirmed by Lloyd-Weber in a pre-recorded spot at the top of the show, the kids are actually playing these instruments. Cameron Trueblood on drums, Mystic Inscho on electric guitar, Theo Mitchell-Penner on keyboard, Leanne Parks on bass are simply fantastic. In addition, Sami Bray as Summer, the persnickety band manager and Grier Burke as Tomika, the wanna-be Whitney, deserve a special shout out. Amazing work.
Kids in audience loved the show. (Maybe PG-13 for those of you adults looking for that kind of report card.) And old people appeared to like the show as well, as the woman I was seated next to turned to me at the interval and told me that she enjoyed watching me laugh during act one. And while the musical version of “School of Rock” doesn’t win high marks for originality, it’s lively and rocks out with abandon.
Oh, the cure for an earworm? Duran Duran. Years ago, a good friend –a lead singer in a rock band — told me that the best way to banish a musical earworm was to sing a song by Duran Duran. Doesn’t matter which one. I’ve used it many times — never fails. But I had such a good time at School of Rock I’m gonna “stick it to the man” for a few more hours before I rev up “Girls on Film.”
‘SCHOOL OF ROCK’
WHERE: Proctors Theater, Schenectady, NY
WHEN: Through February
HOW MUCH: $30 — $120
MORE INFO: 518-346-6204