You get the feeling “School of Rock – the Musical” wants to be a lot more badass that it actually is. The best the Broadway road tour, in Fort Lauderdale for a two-week run, can muster is something hovering just above perfectly pleasant. And that’s just fine. Not every show needs to reinvent theater.
“School of Rock – the Musical” does check off all the requisite musical-comedy boxes. Broad humor? Check. Peppy production numbers? Check. Likable characters? Double-triple-check.
And yet a so-so score by Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Cats,” “Evita”) with lyrics by Glenn Slater (“Sister Act,” “The Little Mermaid”) and a by-the-book book by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey,” “Gosford Park”) only manage to add up to a serviceable stage adaptation of the hit 2003 movie that starred Jack Black, but lacking that actor’s wild-eyed swagger.
The musical, for the most part, follows the movie’s plot beat for beat. Rocker wannabe Dewey (Rob Colletti, a butterball of energy carrying the show from center stage 99 percent of the time) has been kicked out of his band and his bedroom, where he has been freeloading off his best friend, Ned (Matt Bittner), a substitute teacher. “I’m sick and tired of being the guy everyone comes to for the money I owe them,” Dewey says.
Broke with no prospects, Dewey intercepts a phone call for Ned with a job offer to teach fifth grade at a prestigious private school and decides to impersonate his roommate in order to get the $900 paycheck. Spectacularly unprepared for instruction in a prep-school environment, Dewey falls back on what he knows. In short order, he has turned a class of straight-A students into his own rock band, right under the nose of the buttoned-down headmistress, Ms. Mullins (Lexie Dorsett Sharp, sharp and sensuous simultaneously). Dewey plans on using his ersatz group to win a Battle of the Bands contest, sticking it to his first band that cut him loose and sticking it to “the man,” whom Dewey defines as that powerful dude responsible for all the evil in the world “like global warming, Jar Jar Binks, the Kardashians and fidget spinners.”
And there you have it. That joke feels a little dusty already. In fact, the whole show needs a shot of something to punch it up (come to think of it, wouldn’t rap have better served the anarchy undercurrent of the original movie?). That being said, you’d have to be a Grinch not to be charmed by the child actors, who, the tour insists, play their instruments live onstage on their way to empowerment.
Goodness knows you get plenty of time to enjoy their deft deployment, with the show clocking in just shy of three hours. Well into the second act, you begin to feel as if you’re waiting for something, an indefinable thing that you can’t quite nail down, what with all the distracting jumping-up-and-down choreography and fist pumping going on. Then, as the cast rock out their curtain calls, you realize what it is: “School of Rock – the Musical” has not given you one single surprise. Without that, you just can’t be badass.
“School of Rock – the Musical” runs through Dec. 24 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17; 2 p.m. matinee Saturdays and Wednesday, Dec. 20; and 1 p.m. matinee Sundays. Tickets cost $30-$160. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.