Review: GPAC's SCHOOL OF ROCK riles up audiences at Uptown Theater

photo by Mallory Roelke

 School of Rock The Musical

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Book by Julian Fellowes
Directed by Mallory Roelke

Reviewed by David Ellivloc

What do you want to be when you grow up?  We’re all asked that as kids but many of us struggle with that question for years beyond childhood.  Based on the 2003 movie School of Rock, which starred Jack Black as Dewey Finn, the Grand Prairie Art Council’s production of School of Rock The Musical will not disappoint movie fans while winning and entertaining a new theater audience as well.

Dewey Finn, as played by Robert L. Escamilla, is an ebullient man-child, freshly kicked to the curb by the floundering rock band he founded.  Escamilla has great presence, and he convinces us that Dewey could be an incredible front man when early in the show he belts the rock anthem “When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock.”  However, the more immediate and possibly even more Sisyphean task facing Dewey is just making his rent.  Spencer Bovaird plays Ned Schneebly, Dewey’s roomie, former bandmate, and bestie, with just the right touch of jovial innocence.  Escamilla and Bovaird make a delightfully dysfunctional duo as Bovaird’s Ned strives to put away childish things, such as rockstar fantasies, and now substitute teaches, while Escamilla’s unemployed Dewey still wants to be a Guitar Hero.  Indeed, in a wonderful scene, our boys are caught playing Guitar Hero by Ned’s girlfriend, Patty, who is also the third roommate and the obvious Alpha of this pack.    Leslie Navarro’s Patty Di Marco is a tough no nonsense woman who can harshly lay down the law for Dewey in “Mount Rock Reprise '' yet melt every time she looks into Ned’s eyes.  It’s the obvious love for Ned shown by Navarro’s Patty that keeps us sympathetic as she tries to stiffen Ned’s spine with some tough love while giving Dewey a metaphorical kick in the rear.  Either Dewey pays the rent or he’s out in thirty days!

Dewey does get up off the couch but it’s only to answer the persistently ringing phone he eventually finds in his dirty laundry.  And who is calling?  As played by Rebecca Miller it’s Rosalie Mullins, the tightly wound and purposefully proper put-upon principal of the very prestigious Horace Green college-preparatory school.  Miller’s Rosalie is seeking Ned Schneebly as she is in desperate need of a substitute teacher with Ned’s credentials and reputation, but it’s Dewey who lands the lucrative side hustle by shamelessly impersonating Ned.  The rest of the show revolves around whether Dewey, this wannabe bad boy of rock, can pull off this masquerade, win the Battle of the Bands, and pay his rent before he is unmasked.

We’re introduced to the school, its principal, students, and teachers, in the song “Horace Green Alma Mater.”  It’s at this point that you’ll realize the enormity of this production.  There’s upwards of 30 cast members who appear on stage in this show and there’s seven musicians down in the orchestra pit.  Unfortunately, there’s no way in a review that I can spotlight each member of this excellent ensemble cast, but be assured that each one shines, acting with purpose, singing, and dancing with high energy, weaving together a bright rich tapestry of character and story.  

Rebecca Miller has a beautiful soprano voice but it’s her sincere angst as Rosalie that makes the biggest impression in her first big solo number, “Here at Horace Green.”  Miller's Rosalie makes it clear to us that the pressure is on her as principal of Horace Green, and that failure is not an option for either her, the teachers, or the students.  Miller blows us away  in the song “Queen of the Night” that contains a well-known, famously difficult Mozart aria, featured in the Magic Flute, that you will likely recognize, but is seemingly effortless to conquered by Miller.  This musical confection is so delicious we’re served a second helping of “Queen of the Night” at the very end of the show, and how sweet it is!

From the top of the show, Escamilla makes clear Dewey’s passion for rock and personal rock glory, and he does not shy away from the me-me-me centric worldview that blinds Dewey to all else.  Escamilla’s Dewey accepts zero responsibility for getting fired from his own band, being unable to pay his share of the rent, or even for being in way over his head, when he first tries to teach.  It is a credit to Escamilla’s likability that we are still rooting for Dewey after his first disappointing class with the kids at Horace Green.  Yet, when Escamilla’s Dewey hears the kids sing “Queen of the Night” with Mullins, he immediately sees their talent and worth as musicians equal to himself, while Mullins merely critiques them on details that arguably don’t matter.  Surprisingly, out of all the adults they encounter, it’s Escamilla’s Dewey who listens and truly hears them, recognizing kindred musical spirits, who like himself would benefit from someone who believed in them, while seeing a glorious rock future for them all.  

For me, the most moving song in the show is “If Only You Would Listen,” where the kids in the class are painfully and plaintively honest as they plead to be heard by the adults in their lives.  That need to have your authentic self both heard and seen is at the heart of both this show and rock and roll itself.  Here’s an excerpt from the lyrics of “If Only You Would Listen”:

I’ve got so much to say,
If only you would listen.
I’ve tried ev’ry which way,
And still you never listen.
Can’t you see I’m hurting?
I couldn’t be more clear.
But I promise,
One day I’ll make you hear.

The kids embody the heart and soul of the rock and roll in School of Rock The Musical and GPAC’s “students” all get straight A’s from me.  And, yes, once Dewey hatches his plan to have his class win the Battle of the Bands, you’ll see them play their own instruments!!  The band’s ax-man is Reece Turley’s Zack, who has more bounce to the ounce than an Olympic gymnast and can shred on guitar.  There’s a particularly sweet moment when Escamilla’s Dewey helps bring Turley’s Zack out of his shell and they convincingly write a rock song right in front of our eyes.  Preston Dolezal is the keyboardist, Lawrence, a sweet unconfident boy, and his transition to cool, thanks again to Dewey’s encouragement, is charming.  Drake Tillery’s Freddy is the rambunctious drummer, rescued by Escamilla’s Dewey from a bleak future of disruptively clashing the cymbals during music class. Molly Minyard’s bassist, Katie, is a believably quiet, serious girl whom Dewey helps find her musical groove.  Lexi Rene is mysterious and compelling as Tomika, an amazing soprano, who at first is too shy to speak, but amazes when she sings a well-loved hymn.  We really see the change in Escamilla’s Dewey as he consistently works to make Tomika comfortable and find her voice, becoming the band’s secondary singer, behind only himself.  Sadie Contreras’s Shonelle and Penelope Gazsi’s Marcy are so very fun to watch as they provide excellent backup vocals and accompanying slick dance moves.  Brayden Ross-Itok’s Billy is a happy and constantly smiling child whose flamboyant artistic side finds an outlet in fashion, as he labors to find a look for the band that Dewey will accept.   Jonah Dolezal is the tech, Mason, who personifies the super-smart, nerdy, tech-savvy boy and designs all the lighting and special effects for the band.  Jack Smith’s James, who becomes the band’s security guard, is always in action and just a hoot to watch, as his joy in being in the band is palpable.   Kira TreesSophie is the band’s roadie, but, since the band doesn't go on tour, she becomes yet another talented back-up dancer.  Last, but certainly first, at least in her mind, is Amrynn Wood’s irrepressible and overly responsible Summer, who convincingly manages the band and might one day make a fine President of the United States.  All these actors are triple threats with major acting, singing, and dancing talents, even though I have shoes older than any of them.  FYI, I’m keeping my program, so I’ll have proof that I saw them back at their beginning.

Escamilla and Miller play off each other well and they make Dewey and Rosalie’s story a sweet one, as you see them come to know each other’s true self and support for each other.  It is great fun watching Miller’s Rosalie literally let her hair down as she and Dewey share their love of rock and roll.

The musical’s eponymous song “School of Rock” rocks in all its various forms, as it is sung, at least in part, three separate times.  But it’s the Act 1 closer, “Stick It To The Man,” reprised as a competition encore at almost the very end of Act 2, that’s the head of the class for me at this School of Rock The Musical.  Indeed, the exuberance, the raw energy, the sheer joy, the unbridled outpouring of happiness, at the mere idea of sticking it to the man, that is expressed in this song by Dewey and the students, will rile you up and get you rocking and rolling!  Now, I must give a slight disclaimer here, and there was one made at the top of the show as well by GPAC officers, that the child characters in this show do act out a bit and that youngsters in the audience should remember the warning “Please, kids don’t try this at home.”  This acting out is most prevalent in the song “Stick It To The Man” and is a hand gesture you’ve probably seen in rush hour on the I-30 or some other busy roadway, although hopefully it wasn’t directed at you.  Here, the gesture is directed at the collective “Man” who keeps us down and I would encourage you take it with the lightheartedness with which it is intended to be taken.  These aren’t bad kids, they’re good kids blowing off some steam by making a bad hand gesture.  And, again, please, kids and adults, don’t try this at home or on the DFW roadways.

GPAC, Artistic Director Mallory Roelke, Music Directors Devon Harper and Ian Mead Moore, and Choreographer Camille Russo, Costumer Hope Cox, and Set Designer Matt Betz, deserve congratulations for their achievements on a show of this capacity. They and their huge team of cast, crew and musicians all triumph and have firmly planted the flag of victory atop the pinnacle of Dewey’s Mount Rock!

Reserved seating tickets are $25, $20, and $15. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling the box office at 972-237-8786. 

Audience Rating: PG-13 due to an impolite hand gesture made by children and adults

Running Time:  Two hours and 45 minutes including intermission

Accessible seating: Available

Hearing Devices Available: Not Available

Sensory Friendly Showing: Not Available

ASL Showing: Not Available

Production Sound Level: Comfortable Volume Level

Noises and Visuals to Know About: Yes.  Children and adults make an impolite hand gesture. 

See you at the theater!

David Ellivloc