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[Herald Review] ‘School of Rock’ delightfully charming, as talented cast rocks on

I never thought I’d say this, but having watched the musical adaptation of the 2003 Richard Linklater film “School of Rock,” I actually prefer the stage version.

Nobody can recreate Jack Black’s uncontained quirkiness, unorthodox charisma and unhinged charm, qualities whch formed the backbone of the movie. Dewey Finn is a role made for Black, and no one will fit into it better than him. Ever.

But while the film was really a one-man show starring Dewey, the musical is more about the band, the “School of Rock.” Because the children’s stories are explored in depth, the audience can be more invested in them, and the chemistry among cast members is that much better.

“School of Rock” (Clip Service)
“School of Rock” (Clip Service)

The story follows washed-up rock musician Dewey Finn, who is kicked out of a band for his obnoxious behavior and absurd personality. In desperate need of money, he disguises himself as his roommate and longtime friend Ned Schneebly and lands a job as a substitute teacher at Horace Green, a prestigious prep school.

Despite some initial trouble fitting in, Dewey learns that his students are extremely talented. He decides to form a music band with them in hopes of winning the Battle of the Band contest. Along the way, the sloppy, chubby loser of a man touches the lives of the overworked preteens and that of uptight Principal Mullins, who keeps her passion buried deep within.

The first act actually didn’t start very strong. The attempt to re-create the initial conflict with Dewey’s roommates felt neither intriguing nor original. Mark Anderson as Ned and Imogen Brooke as his girlfriend, Patty Di Marco, did not leave much of an impression.

The show really starts to take off when Dewey and the kids meet.

Conner Gillooly as Dewey doesn’t try to duplicate Black’s performance but pulls off a strong performance of his own. Sure, it is hard to imagine the clean-cut actor as an obnoxious slob, but he embodies the essence of the character in his own way: a lost kid hung up on his dreams and unable to let go.

The children in the original were adorable, but no one except Summer got any real character development. The musical actually develops these characters, and it helps when they interact with Dewey. 

“School of Rock” (Clip Service)
“School of Rock” (Clip Service)
“School of Rock” (Clip Service)
“School of Rock” (Clip Service)

Watching Summer Hathaway in the 2003 flick, I absolutely loved that annoying little brat. But Billie-Rose Brotherson may have overshadowed her movie counterpart. Then again, most of the kids in the stage version do. The story delved deeper into the character of Zack and showed the pressure he was under from his overbearing father, which made his song later on in the piece more cathartic.

The subplot about intentionally mute Tomika was a bit “after-school special,” but worked because it had heart and because of Zabriel Orayenza’s great performance.

In “If Only You Would Listen,” the young cast shows the weight of their parents’ expectations, and this theme pays off beautifully in another original number, “Stick It to the Man.” In a remake of a musical film, it was impressive that an original song left such an impression, a testament to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s talents.

The tunes were great, but “School of Rock” really started to rock when Brendan Rutledge plucked his first notes on the electric guitar. And then there were the awesome performances from Cherami Mya Remulta, George Audet and Tobi Clark. 

I mentioned that the chemistry and development of the child characters as the factor that enriched the story, but the live performance was what I thought made the show really take off, and one that gives a definitive edge over the film version. These kids are unbelievably talented and can definitely “rock hardcore.” In fact, you can forget the story, the acting and the characters. It is worth just seeing these diminutive rock stars own the stage.

The music is not as edgy as some of Lloyd Webber’s other works. Despite what it says, the musical didn’t feel as anti-establishment as a rock-based piece would lead one to expect. That may be because many of the original scores were not really rock music, but it definitely works.

This isn’t a musical that tries to be provocative and absurd, but delightful and charming. And it was indeed. There were a lot of children in the audience, who seemed utterly disinterested in the earlier heavy metal songs, but were soon having the time of their lives when the hilarity between Dewey and the kids reached commenced. An adorable little girl sitting to my right burst into such loud laughter that her mother had to shush her. 

It is a funny, cute, charming musical with heart and kick-ass live performance music by some of the most talented children around, and is definitely worth a watch. 

“School of Rock,” part of an international tour, is in English with Korean subtitles and runs at Charlotte Theater in Seoul until Aug. 25. After that, it will move on to Busan’s Dream Theater. In September, the show moves to the Keimyung Art Center in Daegu.

Tickets range in price from 60,000 won to 160,000 won and are available through online booking websites and the homepage of Charlotte Theater. It is 160 minutes long, with intermission, and is open to viewers 8 and older.

For more information, visit the official homepage:

By Yoon Min-sik