What happens when your dreams of rock superstardom don’t exactly pan out? (Not to mention when the rent is way past due and your job prospects are nil?) For musician Dewey Finn, the charmingly shady path leads to a substitute teacher position at a prestigious prep school. And if that elite bunch under his tutelage happens to become really, really good at guitar-shredding and head-banging — and if Finn happens to fall for Rosalie Mullins, the buttoned-up headmistress with a love of the music all her own — well, all’s fair in rock n’ roll, right?
The all-too-brief Chicago stop on School of Rock: The Musical’s national tour is not to be missed. Joyously recreating the 2003 film starring Jack Black, Broadway superstar Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score is beyond terrific, and Chicagoan Rob Colletti’s fantastic take on Dewey is so all-in it’ll have you asking “…Jack who?” Under Laurence Connor’s direction, the cast of musical powerhouses (many of them kids 12 and under) will have you dancing in the aisles — and just maybe believing in the restorative magic of the music.
The talented Lexie Dorsett Sharp, who plays Rosalie with a grounding blend of ice and fire, raves about the crew of tweens who rock this show. “They’re quadruple threats: they’re singing, they’re playing instruments, they’re acting and they’re dancing. And they have cool parents! They have parents who’ve cultivated the arts with their children and seen talent — and that takes a special kind of parent, I think, too.” She notes that the “child wranglers” who tour with the group make up a remarkably well-oiled machine, but thinks that what gives these kids the extra something special is the fact that they’re, well, actual kids.
“[The casting team] really were looking for kids who acted like kids. Some of them aren’t theater-based, they’re just amazing musicians. And it really makes a big difference onstage, it’s what you want to see. And to be out there with them and get to see them be truly in the moment each night, they’re fantastic. And they really do play! A lot of people think their songs are doubled but it’s really them, one hundred percent.”
And while there’s no wild party scene with a tour this young, Sharp notes an element that’s extremely present; an aspect of social media with the kids that was markedly absent in her own youth.
“They all have Instagram accounts, they all have Snapchat, and they all have followers; it’s really cool, but it’s so different than how I grew up. I didn’t get a cell phone until high school and it was really just for emergencies only!”
An accessibility to the show and actors comes with this technology and, as Sharp says, it adds something special for the youngest fans. “It lets other kids see into their lives and it inspires them.”As for how the kids stay grounded on tour in the midst of all the adoration, Sharp admires how they navigate it beautifully. “The kids all get along very well, which is awesome — but not always the case — and then even have this group Instagram account called ‘slimerockerz’ where they make slime. It’s a reminder that they’re still kids. There’s an element of play that’s always around.”
Of her fully grown cast mates, she has an equal amount of admiration and respect.
“Our ensemble is very diverse…[and] they’re doubling as parents of the students who go to the school — very elite, well-to-do people, and they also get to play the teachers — they really transform. Everybody is playing at least two different people, and I think it’s neat that they made that casting choice. It’s through their skill that you’re able to believe there’s more people in the show than there are.”
Lexie-as-Rosalie’s time to shine in the show comes during “the infamous bar scene” — her favorite moment in the show.
“You get to see Rosalie not have to be the uptight principal anymore, she starts to let that facade crack and you see why she is the way she is … and she becomes a little more human in that moment. I think that what Andrew Lloyd Webber writes the best are these belty songs for women; I had this full circle moment of getting to sing ‘Where Did the Rock Go,’ which is THAT moment in this Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. It’s also a funny scene, and I love comedy. You don’t expect the joke to come from Rosalie in that scene, so there’s a nice payoff there as well.”
So, in real life, is Lexie more of a Rosalie or a Dewey?
“I’m more a Rosalie, as much as I don’t want to admit it! She’s Type A, and in that I can definitely relate … I sat my parents down in ninth grade and had printed out the top ten schools for musical theater and said “I’m going to go to one of these schools.” (FYI, Sharp ended up attending a school on that list.)
“I spoke with David Ruttura, our Associate Director, about how Rosalie’s the principal of this very successful prep school, and what it means to be a woman running that school, to maybe have sacrificed other things in life to be that career-successful. I understand that; wanting to assert myself and be taken seriously and work my way to the top— and the idea that, sometimes when someone does that, they’re seen as strict or mean, but what it really is is direct.”
There’s always an element of Dewey there as well, however, as Sharp admits that she’s “casual, not very prim and proper.”
“I’m much more of an Act 2 Rosalie.”
Which, after throwing devil horns with my six- and eight year-olds at the show’s strikingly fun finale, is definitely something to aspire to. Unless you have the option of being one of the show’s phenomenal kids. Then — do that.
They’re really that good.
If you go
Runs through Nov. 19, 2017
Cadillac Palace Theatre
151 W. Randolph St., Chicago