Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Kids Are Whoa! – Stunning – in ‘School of Rock’ in Appleton

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Twelve children help fire up the hot touring production of “School of Rock – the Musical,” playing for seven more performances through Sunday in Thrivent Financial Hall of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

The children are 10 years old, give or take. What they do is well beyond what any elementary school child you know can do in performance – certainly when taken as a bunch.

The 12 children form a rock ‘n’ roll band-plus. They sing, dance, act and supply kid enthusiasm. Especially way ahead of the curve are the children who play guitar, keyboard, bass and drums. In the thick of songs, they are “on.”

The story can be taken two ways: One: It’s a piece of junk. Two: It’s entertainment – no harm, no foul.

In “One,” Dewey, the central character, is a lazy, lying, cheating, egomaniac who battles “the man” – the regular world. That he can walk into a posh school – late – and start work as a substitute teacher is pure idiocy.

In “Two,” Dewey is a clever, brilliant, creative, inspirational rock musician with a way with children of stuffy parents. That he stimulates children to enjoy life is exciting.

Either way, Rob Colletti, who plays Dewey in this production, is a blazing bundle of humanity. Colletti sings, dances and charges through every scene like a whirlwind.

One cool thing is Colletti can be his out-there character with confidence because those 12 children around him don’t hold him back. They are so good that he can FLY.

“School of Rock – the Musical” is filled with all sorts of bright stuff.

The production’s sound system is a marvel – being able to pull so many moving, tricky parts together into an explosive whole.

The thought of Andrew Lloyd Webber being the composer brings a smile. This is the guy who wrote “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Evita” and other huge hits. (Webber will receive a special Tony Award June 10 for lifetime achievement). He just turned 70. Here he is, successfully cranking up the volume of metal rock – along with “normal” musical theater songs, including multiple-voice ones.

The story mostly turns around the “rock ‘n’ roll forever” life theme that Dewey is caught up in. He just got kicked out of band he played guitar in as a support player when he tried to hog the spotlight. Dewey is mooching big time off his best friend, Ned (Matt Bittner), and his wife, Patty (Emily Borromeo), who keeps showing the door to Dewey with no luck. Dewey gets to be a teacher after he answers the phone and pretends to be Ned, who has been called on to be an emergency substitute. It is then Dewey meets the by-the-book principal, Rosalie (Lexie Dorsett Sharp, who can lift a few operatic notes). Dewey manages to form a band – starting from scratch – during school hours. Go figure. Dewey and Rosalie tiff and tiff and tiff until Dewey asks Rosalie out for a drink. The story includes romance, too.

The show is the kind that charges up an audience. The rock is infectious – though “Stick It to the Man” is best kept in the theater than a life’s goal. On opening night Tuesday, the crowd gave a long standing ovation, Rob Colletti (Dewey) seemed to eat it up and the crowd buzz lasted well into the street as the excited audience filed out. Fun was had by whole lot of people from youngsters on up.

***

Creative: Music – Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics – Glenn Slater; book – Julian Fellowes, based on the 2003 film with screenplay by Mike White; director – Laurence Connor; choreographer – JoAnn M. Hunter; music supervisor – John Rigby; scenic and costume designer – Anna Louizos; music director – Martyn Axe; lighting designer – Natasha Katz; hair design – Josh Marquette; executive producer – Madeleine Lloyd Webber

Cast: Dewey – Rob Colletti; Rosalie – Lexie Dorsett Sharp; Ned – Matt Bittner; Dewey alternate – Merritt David Jones; Tomika – Grier Burke; Gabe Brown, Mr. Hamilton, Jeff Sanderson, Ensemble – Patrick Clanton; Ensemble – Kristian Espiritu; Swing – Rayna Farr; Swing – Bella Fraker; Mason – Carson Hodges; Swing – Jack Suarez Kimmel; Marcy – Alyssa Emily Marvin; Lawrence – Theo Mitchell-Penner; Freddy – Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton; Summer – Iara Nemirovsky; Katie – Theodora Silverman; James – Cameron Trueblood; Theo – Hernando Umana; Billy – Huxley Westemeier; Patty – Emily Borromeo; Shonelle – Olivia Bucknor; Swing – John Campione; Dance Captain, Swing – Christopher De Angelis; Ensemble – Melanie Evans; Bob, Mr. Sanford, Cop, Ensemble – Liam Fennecken; Assistant Dance Captain, Swing – Kara Haller; Mrs. Hathaway, Ensemble – Elysia Jordan; Ms. Sheinkopf – Deidre Lang; Snake, Mr. Mooneyham, Ensemble – Sinclair Mitchell; Zack – Vincent Molden; Stanley, Mr. Williams, Ensemble – Jameson Moss; Doug, Mr. Spencer, Ensemble – Tim Shea; Swing – Jesse Sparks; Sophie – Gabriella Uhl; Swing – Aiden Niklas Villa

Orchestra: Music director/keyboards – Martyn Axe; assistant music director/keyboards – Julie Homi; children’s music director – Benjamin Zoleski; guitar 1 – Anthony Rubbo; guitar 2 – Diego Rojas; guitar 3 – Oscar Bautista; bass – Lynn Keller; drums – Taurus Lovely;  band tech – Benjamin Zoleski; librarian – Lynn Keller

Running time: Two hours, 40 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. April 25, 25, 27; 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 28; 1 and 6:30 p.m. April 29

Info: foxcitiespac.com

***

Musical numbers

Act I

“I’m Too Hot for You” – No Vacancy and Dewey

“When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock” – Dewey

“Horace Green Alma Mater” – Rosalie, Students and Teachers

“Here at Horace Green” – Rosalie

“Variation 7” – Dewey and Ned

“Children of Rock” – Dewey and Ned

“Mount Rock” (Reprise) – Patty

“Queen of the Night” – Rosalie, Dewey and Gabe

“You’re in the Band” – Dewey and Students

“You’re in the Band” (Reprise) – Dewey and Students

“If Only You Would Listen” – Students

“In the End of Time” – Dewey

“Faculty Quadrille” – Teachers

“In the End of Time” (Band Practice) – Dewey and Students

“Stick It to the Man” – Dewey and Students

“In the End of Time” (The Audition) – Dewey and Students

“Stick It to the Man” (Reprise) – Dewey and Students

Act II

“Time to Play” – Summer and Students

“Amazing Grace” – Tomika

“Math Is a Wonderful Thing” – Dewey and Students

“Where Did the Rock Go?” – Rosalie

“School of Rock” (Band Practice) – Dewey and Students

“Dewey’s Confession” – Dewey, Rosalie, Patty, Ned and Parents

“If Only You Would Listen” (Reprise) – Tomika and Other Students

“I’m Too Hot for You” (Reprise) – No Vacancy

“School of Rock” – Dewey and Students

“Stick It to the Man” (Encore) – Dewey and Students

“Finale” – Full Company

***

THE VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on College Avenue in downtown Appleton. The capacity is 2,072. The seating area is in the shape of a horse shoe, with three balconies following the shape. The stage is 60 feet across and 40 feet high. The décor features Veneciano plaster walls with dark-stained cherry wood. In the oval dome ceiling is a 65-foot long chandelier that is reminiscent of the Art Deco era. The design includes ruby inserts in the opaque cream-colored glass. Flowing along the walls up to the chandelier are parallel metal pipes as if of a musical instrument. Flat walls in the front third of the hall are salmon colored, while red pleated theatrical curtains dominate the rest of the side walls. The white acoustic wing over the stage looks like the underside of a sci-fi spacecraft. The lobby area consists of lots of geometrics, glass and, on the ground level, a feeling of openness and spaciousness. The exterior of the gray building features gentle curves. A large glass skylight is reminiscent of a human eye.

THE NAME: Thrivent Financial has roots in a life insurance company that was chartered in 1902 as Aid Association for Lutherans, based in Appleton. The corporate name has been Thrivent since 2002.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.

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