Cadillac Palace Theater

School of Rock

At the Cadillac Palace Theatre

By Dan Zeff


  CHICAGO—Just before the houselights dim for the start of “School of Rock” at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, a disembodied voice informs the audience that the child actors do indeed play their own instruments in this rock musical. That’s not all the 12 kiddies accomplish. They provide the main reason to attend the show.

“School of Rock” is the latest work by Baron Lloyd-Webber, more commonly known as Andrew Lloyd Webber, the English composer responsible for such modern operettas as “Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and “Evita.” Lloyd Webber writing a rock music score seems as probable as eyebrows on eggs, but he does pull it off, especially if loudness is figured into the musical equation. In particular, “You’re in the Band” and “Stick It to the Man” are authentic rock ‘n’ roll rousers. And Lloyd Webber pokes a little fun at himself by slipping in a few bars of “Memory” from “Cats” into a number, promptly scorned by Dewey. But good luck trying to delineate all of Glenn Slater’s lyrics in the general din. And while we are listing unlikely contributors to the show, the book is credited to Julian Fellowes, who wrote the la-de-da British TV series “Downton Abbey.”

“School of Rock” is adapted from the 2003 movie of the same name, which made a star out of Jack Black, who played Dewey Finn. Rob Colletti plays Dewey in Chicago, replaced at certain performances by Merritt David Janes. We first meet Dewey as a boozing obnoxious rock musician who has just been kicked out of his own band. Dewey is living in an apartment with Ned (Matt Bittner) and Patty (Emily Borromeo) and Patty, who detests Dewey, demands the freeloaded boarder come up with his share of the rent. Providentially, Dewey gets the opportunity to con his way into a substitute teacher’s position  at Horace Green, an upscale private school.

It doesn’t take Dewey long to roil the staid school culture, especially the starchy principal Rosalie Mullins. Dewey tosses out the school curriculum and converts his fifth grade class into a rock band, a very loud rock band whose decibel count apparently doesn’t cause much reaction from instruction in nearby classrooms. From then on its one blasting number after another as Dewey discovers that his students possess musical talent that has been suppressed by the stuffy school and the equally stuffy parents.

At about this time the clichés start flooding the stage and they don’t stop until the cast takes its final bow at the end of act two. Dewey changes from a disagreeable slob into a caring advocate of releasing the free spirit in his class through rock music. One student, so shy she never speaks, turns out to have a belting singing voice that blossoms under Dewey’s Dr. Phil-like encouragement. The stereotype mothers and fathers are all insensitive or misguided in raising their kiddies, but Dewey shows them the error of their negligent parenting after the usual confrontations and young and old are rocking and rolling by the end of the evening.

Rosalie suddenly lets her hair down after consuming one beer with Dewey, and turns out to be a real hipster (she’s a Stevie Nicks idolater) under that frosty schoolteacher façade. Dewey and Rosalie even ignite a romance, the most implausible I can recall on any stage anywhere. By the end of the show, it struck me that that much of the plot was ripped off “The Music Man,” with Dewey as a gross Harold Hill.

Give Rob Colletti credit. He throws himself into the role of Dewey with almost maniacal energy. The character is on stage nearly the entire show and screaming out the rock songs with unrelenting intensity. Colletti is a nimble man with an off-the-cuff wisecrack and he originates most of the legitimate verbal comedy, often in interaction with his child acolytes. Unfortunately, Dewey/Colletti is charged with bringing the audience to a fever pitch in the show’s final moments, frantically soliciting noisy approval from the large crowd, who were very willing to respond with vociferous clapping and shouting and arm waving. But the approval was orchestrated from the stage rather than emerging naturally from the show, like the “Dancing Queen” curtain call in “Mamma Mia!”

Other than Colletti, the only adult performance that matters is provided by Lexie Dorsett Sharp as Rosalie, a statuesque woman who dwarfs Colletti and has a big voice. Her character is a cartoon but she doesn’t camp it up and her rueful “Where Did the Rock Go?” was the most listenable song in the Lloyd Webber score.

It would be an injustice to single out certain of the child actors as more valuable to the show than their colleagues. Not all of the kids play a musical instrument but they all sing and dance and frequently talk back to their frustrating parents. They are listed here, with my appreciation and gratitude, as they appear in the playbill—Olivia Bucknor, Theodora Silverman, Tommy Ragen, Chloe Anne Garcia, Carson Hodges, Gianna Harris, Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton, Phoenix Schuman, John Michael Pitera, Theo Mitchell-Penner, Ava Briglia, and Gabriella Uhl. They all look their age, perform with exuberant professionalism, and seem to be having a fine time. There are a couple of swing performers to lighten the load of the eight-performance week.

Laurence Connor directs the show and JoAnn Hunter is the choreographer. The production is not anything special as a visual experience, other than the children doing their dancing licks. For the record, Anna Louizos is the scenic and costume designer. Natasha Katz designed the lighting and Mick Potter the sound.

The basic premise of “School of Rock” does not seek subtlety or innovation. It’s a synthetic and predictable 2½ hours occasionally enhanced by droll humor. The production relies on Scott Colletti’s force of nature propulsion and the charm and skill and enthusiasm of the 12 kids. People who like this sort of thing should enjoy “School of Rock.” Older folks might be better off staying at home listening to their Benny Goodman records.

The show gets a rating of .

“School of Rock” runs through November 19 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph Street. Most performances are Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $27 to $98. Call 800 775 2000 or visit

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