Theatre Review: ‘School of Rock’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The North American touring cast of “School of Rock.”

As a theatre reviewer, I tend to go into shows with an open mind and no real expectations. I figure that if I have no expectations, I cannot be let down. Usually this works, and usually I am pleasantly surprised at what the show I am viewing turns into. ‘School of Rock’ is one of those shows that I rolled my eyes at, because I thought it was just a ploy to get theatergoers to see a show based on a successful movie. And sure, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music for the production, but eh. . . I was not ready to be too impressed. Boy was I wrong. After witnessing school children shredding on an electric guitar, playing drums like a pro, and putting on a rock concert right in-front of my eyes, I was sold. I quite honestly think that “School of Rock” is the best musical I have seen in a long time.

. . .“School of Rock” is the best musical I have seen in a long time.

“School of Rock,” which is based on the 2003 movie that starred Jack Black, tells the tale of an underachieving rock-star wannabe, Dewey (Rob Colletti), who is mooching off of his friend Ned by staying in his apartment, free of charge. Ned, is a teacher, and Patty works for the Mayor. When Ned’s girlfriend Patty says that Dewey needs to pay rent, or he’s being kicked out, Dewey goes off to find a job. In an effort to pay his rent, Dewey pretends to be Ned, and takes a job as a substitute teacher at an ivy league prep school, but instead of following a set curriculum, Dewey decides to teach his class about rock music.

Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote 14 brand new songs for this show, and right from the get go, you can feel the energy that you expect from an ALW production. The music is wonderful, and while the story is taken from a film that many of us know, audiences will be amazed at how well each song moves the story forward, and keeps the original heart that the movie delivered.

Starring in the role of Dewey is Rob Colletti, who is the best casting choice for a role of this caliber. Collettii is funny, he’s gross, he’s lovable, he’s the perfect choice for a leading man, and he brings his own twist  to the character that Jack Black created. I have said it time and time again, it is so easy to emulate a performance from a character that is well known, but Colletti makes this character his own. He also plays a mean electric guitar, and a mean game of Guitar Hero!

The adult ensemble in this show is fantastic, playing many roles, and keeping the story flowing, but the true stars of this show are the children. All the children in this show are phenomenal, and if I had space to name them all, I would.

Vincent Molden as Zack, is a pro on his electric guitar, and my jaw just dropped when I saw him take to the stage with such confidence and ease.

Gilberto Moratti-Hamilton as Freddy, is a rock star on the drums, watching him go to town is so inspiring!

Huxley Westemeier as Billy,  is hilarious as the band’s costume designer. He packs so much punch into his delivery! I couldn’t stop laughing.

Grier Burke as Tomika opens her mouth and angels sing! She is a young powerhouse with the ability to bring audiences to their feet when she finishes singing.

The set, designed by Anna Louizos, is a character of it’s own, and really is utilized well to tell the story!

As a substitute teacher in my daily life, sometimes you don’t always feel that you make a difference in the lives of children because you are not the real teacher in the room. This show hit home for me personally, because Dewey, although not a certified teacher, was an adult who did make a difference. Whether we are teaching our students how to paint (Yeah, I’m an art teacher), or solve math problems, or play music, children need to feel like they are important, and Dewey did just that. Maybe we as a society should look at our education system and ask ourselves, are we really doing the best job we can for our kids?

The concept of this show, like the film, is fun and is a story that is easy to follow, but it is a story that possesses such a great theme. In an age where children have their lives scheduled for them for every second of the day, this show tells kids to not be afraid to do what they want to do, and it tells parents to listen to what their kids want to try. It is the give and take that makes this story more than just a upscale kid talent show but actually is a story with wonderful heart. It will make you feel good. The smile never left my face.

Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“School of Rock” runs until April 8, 2018, and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

First Look: ‘School of Rock’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

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The North American Touring Company of “School of Rock.”

To be Andrew Lloyd Webber these days must be very nice. Just think, in the 2017 season, he had 4 shows running on Broadway at the same time. “Cats,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” and his newest work, “School of Rock.” Three of his shows are coming to Buffalo this season! The brand that Andrew Lloyd Webber has created is a powerhouse, and the hits just keep on coming. Buffalo will have the opportunity to see his newest one, an adaptation of the 2003 film, “School of Rock.”

“I became aware of ‘School of Rock’ while I was on tour with “The Phantom of the Opera,’” says Merritt David Janes, who will be playing Dewey in a few of the performances when the show comes to Shea’s Buffalo Theatre next week. “I was lucky enough to audition and become one of the original Broadway cast members of the show.”

“School of Rock” tells the story of a group of straight-A students who are corrupted by a wannabe rockstar substitute teacher, and while they should be studying their lessons, they actually are studying music. Boasting the creation of the first ever kid rock band, “School of Rock” has been turning heads and getting the attention of audiences everywhere.

Andrew Lloyd Webber returns to his rock and roll roots with this new show, writing 14 brand new songs for it. “This show reminds me a little of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in that it is wonderfully written rock music,” says Janes, “Webber is no stranger to writing rock songs, and it really shows here.”

As a member of the original Broadway cast, Janes had the opportunity to see Webber working on the show, and working through the music, “His musical mind is very interesting, and to see him work was a great experience.”

One of the big components of the show are the kids. These kid actors not only had to learn their speaking parts and how to sing the new songs, but they also play all the rock music themselves. “We had over 10,000 kids audition for these parts, and they had to work so hard to get to where they are,” says Janes who adds that he studied to be a music teacher before becoming an actor, “I am so proud of the work they do, and I am so proud that I get to work with them on this show.”

In case it wasn’t clear, the kids PLAY THEIR OWN LIVE MUSIC. “There is a pit orchestra to accompany in transition music, and some underscoring, but the kids in the band are playing their own music,” clarifies Janes. “There is just something about seeing these kids playing in a professional setting that makes my jaw drop in awe,”  he laughs.

A show where children have such power is definitely something that audiences will surely enjoy. “This is a cool production, with lots of reach,” says Janes, “Seeing today’s youth working so hard to do such great things, is a wonderful thing.”

“School of Rock” runs April 3 – 8, 2018 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.