Kid-powered cast brings it in touring Broadway show now at the Denver Center

By Alex Miller

When a dozen kids can get 3,000 people on their feet to help them rock the house in a grand finale, you know there’s something special happening. That was the scene opening night Tuesday at the Denver Center’s Buell Theatre when the musical “School of Rock” opened for a limited engagement through June 10.

Based on Richard Linklater’s 2003 film about shiftless rocker Dewey Finn (played by Jack Black), the musical version takes the story and pumps it up with a full score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and an extraordinary cast that includes a bunch of kids who can play instruments, dance, sing and act.

How do you learn all that in just 10 years?

In this touring Broadway version, Dewey is played by Rob Colletti, who knocks it out of the park as the wannabe rocker who stumbles and schemes his way into substitute teaching at an elite prep school. Dewey would be fine living on power chords and cheeseburgers, but he needs rent money and the entry fee to the local battle of the bands contest on which he’s staking everything. Despite his wish to just have the kids stay on recess while he naps off his hangover, Dewey discovers that a number of them are accomplished musicians, and he switches gears to a preposterous plan to have the kids be his band to try to win the contest.

The action sticks pretty closely to the original film, with the addition of a variety of musical numbers moving the action along and giving a little more insight into some of the characters than the film provided. As the father of the rock musical with “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Andrew Lloyd Webber returns to form with a great lineup of songs ranging from Dewey’s plaintive wailing on “When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock” to the final number “Stick it to the Man,” a reprise of an earlier number that serves as the de facto theme song for Dewey and the kids.

It’s a great show, made even more compelling by the dazzling musical talent of the child actors. The scenes where Dewey coaxes the shy or nerdy kids out of their insecurities and onto the stage are stirring, and the musical is constructed in such a way that the expository material up top is seamlessly woven into the origin tale of how the School of Rock becomes a band.

There are, of course, plenty of roadblocks along the way. Dewey’s roommate Ned (Matt Bittner) has a girlfriend who’s none too happy about the bum sponging off them, and the school’s uptight headmaster Rosalie (Lexie Dorsett Sharp) will only buy Dewey’s act for so long. In the end, though, rock prevails and all is forgiven once the parents and teachers see the band in action.

You’ll find yourself cheering not only for the characters but for the actors themselves. It’s no easy thing at that age to perform in a show such as this, and Colletti himself seemed in awe of his cast mates as they took in their standing ovation.

It’s not around for long, but if you get a chance, make it down the hill for this one.

Vail Daily – May 30, 2018