Talented kids rule the roost in ‘School of Rock’

The national touring production of “School of Rock.” Photo: Evan Zimmerman

BOSTON – “Never work with children or animals” is attributed to the late actor/comedian W.C. Fields, lamenting the scene-stealing that goes on when adults work alongside them.

Fields probably would have said that goes double when the work in question features a large number of kids who are irresistibly charming and talented to boot.

The musical “School of Rock,” based on the 2003 movie that starred Jack Black at the height of his powers, has arrived at the Opera House in Boston in time for the February school vacation and it is family-friendly romp that marks a sharp turn in the career of composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Lloyd Webber has emerged from the darkness of “Phantom” and hits such as “Evita” and “Cats” to remake himself as a rock god of sorts, in the vein of early hits such as “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” providing the music to Glenn Slater’s lyrics in this touring production of the show that ran for three years on Broadway.

The book by, of all people, “Downton Abby” creator Julian Fellowes’ hews fairly closely to Mike White’s screenplay, but it deftly injects enough humor between the rock songs to keep things light.

Theo Mitchell-Penner as Lawrence in “School of Rock.” Photo: Matt Murphy

Dewey Finn (Vermont native Merritt David Janes) has been kicked out of his band No Vacancy. because he adopted to the rock lifestyle a little too well.

Dewey is a likable slacker who has worn out his welcome and then some with former bandmate Ned (Layne Roate), but his girlfriend Patty (Madison Micucci), who brings shrill to a new level in a thankless role, wants Dewey gone immediately, if not sooner.

When Ned gets an offer to be a substitute teacher at an elite private school, Dewey decides the position that will pay him enough money to pay back Ned and Patty for the room and board.

He impersonates Ned and when he shows up to teach fifth-graders at Horace Green, an elite private elementary school, he faces a major problem: not only is he not a teacher, but he has only one real area of expertise: rock ‘n roll.

No matter. The fifth-grade curriculum quickly becomes oriented to the world of heavy metal and break out of their self-imposed shells to become part of a cohesive unit that will compete in a high-stakes Battle of the Bands,

The score by Lloyd Webber and Slater may not leave you humming tunes on the way out, but Dewey’s anthem “In The End of Time,” and the buoyant “Stick it to the Man” are nice tunes and you will leave having been entertained and charmed by the talents of the kids

And yes, as Sir Andrew will tell you as the musical begins, those kids on stage are really playing their instruments.

Every student group needs a leader, and Sami Bray is Summer, the straight-A kid determined to shine at whatever she does.

The young musicians include lead guitarist Zack (Mystic Inscho); Leanne Parks as Katie, the riffing bass guitarist; Theo Mitchell-Penner as Lawrence, the showboating keyboard player; and hard-charging, and flashy drummer Freddy (Cameron Trueblood).

Camille de la Cruz is a revelation as Tamika, a shy butterfly emerging as the lead vocalist.

The parents are wowed at what Dewey’s teaching has wrought and it becomes a godsend for kids such as Zack, whose life in general has been a disappointment for his demanding father.

The band is eventually as christened School of Rock and the Horace Green school uniforms prove adaptable to the concert stage; even Drew gets into the act.

Rosalie Mullen (Exile Dorset Sharp), a by-the-book, no-nonsense principal is concerned that the sounds from “Ned’s” classroom sound very much like music, even though music is not what he’s supposed to be teaching.

Deep down – very deep down – Rosalie has a soft spot for certain rock numbers performed by certain rock singers and bands, and she ends up rocking out with Dewey and letting her hair down ion a major, charming, winning way.

Rosalie has the wool pulled over her eyes for quite a long time, long enough for Dewey/Ned and the kids to escape an ill-fated “parents’ night.” and have their big moment at the Battle of the Bands

For a touring show, the production values are rock-solid: Natasha Kate’s lighting is Rock Concert 101 , Anna Louis’ set and costume design are spot-on, and Mick Potter’s sound design is also rock-concert ready.

“School of Rock” has no great ambitions other than to send you home entertained, with a mild message of the importance of the individual and letting kids be kids attached.

In the fashion of another winning musical, “Mama Mia,” there will be a mini-concert by School of Rock at the end. “School of Rock” is never less than great fun for the entire family, and the finale is guaranteed to lift you out of your seats and perhaps have you dancing in the aisles.

The national touring production of “School of Rock.” Based on the Paramount movie written by Mike White. Book by Julian Fellowes. Lyrics by Glenn Slater. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Directed by Lawrence Connor. Choreograph by JoAnn M.. Hunter. Set design and costume design by Anna Louizos. Lighting design by Natasha Katz. Sound design Mick Potter. At the Opera House, Washington St., Boston through Feb. 24. Broadwayinboston.com