Arts & Culture » Theater

For those about to rock

by Roberto Friedman

Hernando Umana and Rob Colletti in the "School of Rock" touring production now at the Orpheum Theatre. Photo: Matthew Murphy
Hernando Umana and Rob Colletti in the "School of Rock" touring production now at the Orpheum Theatre. Photo: Matthew Murphy  

The touring production of "School of Rock" now playing the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco through July 22 is the perfect opportunity to bring your secret air-guitar moves out of the closet. In busting out some scene-stealing, arena-rock guitar ballet, you'd only be joining the many talented cast members, ages 9-12, who register classic rock riffs on their electric guitars and other rock instruments in this show.

Out There never saw the 2003 Richard Linklater-directed film of the same name, starring Jack Black, that the 2015 Broadway musical uses as source material. So we had nothing to compare it to, and came to the touring show's opening night with mild if any expectations. But we were blown away by the sheer energy of the show's dynamic, youthful cast, all of whom play their own instruments as well as act, sing and dance. They play a public schoolroom full of kids who are taken along for the wild ride when phony "substitute teacher" Dewey Finn puts together an all-kid rock band to compete against the inner-child adults in a "Battle of the Bands" contest.

Theo Mitchell-Penner performs in School of Rock. Photo: Matthew Murphy  

In the J. Black role as Dewey, actor Rob Colletti is a beefy bundle of wannabe-rock-star energy, a walking case-study of arrested development, and a classic-rock man-child. Standout child stars in his pick-up rock band include Vincent Molden on lead guitar, Theodora Silverman on bass, and Theo Mitchell-Penner on keyboards. They rock out on "Teacher's Pet" and other, more generic songs. It's heartening and a little eerie to hear a chorus of children singing, "If you want to be a teacher's pet, there's something that you can't forget!" It's also initially jarring but then more than a bit charming to hear pre-pubescent musicians giving their all to the anthem, "Stick it to The Man!" As Dewey concedes in wonderment when he first hears his charges rocking out, "You guys aren't douchebags!"

The children's rock band takes on the name "School of Rock," which, just for the record, is a lousy name for a rock band. We'd go with "Afterschool Special" or even "Children's Crusade" over "School of Rock," but it's OK for the name of this musical.

For gay fans, there's the "I'm Too Hot for You" number performed by rival rock band No Vacancy, led by Hernando Umana as Theo, in abs-revealing leather rocker outfit. With his rotund form and full lumberjack beard, Colletti is a prime candidate for bearhood. But this is a family show, and the first two elements in the classic formulation "sex, drugs and rock-n-roll" are not even hinted at. Instead we are in composer Andrew Lloyd Webber Land of Rebel Lite. Still, in the right mood, we can rock along with that.

Participant in a previous Flower Piano in the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Photo: SFBG  


When we first stumbled across the initial installment of Flower Piano in the San Francisco Botanical Garden, we thought we were hallucinating. Twelve pianos - 12 tuned pianos - were lurking in unexpected nooks and crannies of the garden, available for any and all, from concert musicians to amateur ivory-tinklers, to sit down and play on: What a concept! We returned with our dog-eared copy of Chopin Mazurkas, and piano-benched ourselves in the Moon Garden to work our way through a few old favorites.

Flower Piano is back for a fourth year, July 5-16, and free with regular admission to the Garden (SF residents get in free, with ID). Our source says, "Lots of new performers scheduled for this year by event partner Sunset Piano, including Latin jazz master Chuchito Valdés. This year also we feature more four-hand performances on dual pianos, including one of Saint-Saëns' 'Carnival of the Animals' by critically acclaimed pianist Allison Lovejoy, together with Kymry Esainko and members of the Classical Revolution Orchestra.

"And due to popular demand, NightGarden Piano, a special evening version of Flower Piano that sold out last year, is back and expanded to three nights, July 12-14. Beautifully lit pathways guide visitors to pianos aglow with performances by Sunset Piano all-stars and open pianos to play. Not to be missed this year are Jill Tracy's 'Sonic Séance,' Sarah Cahill performing music by Terry Riley and Meredith Monk, and the a cappella men's choir Conspiracy of Beards singing the songs of Leonard Cohen. Food and drink are also available for purchase. Tickets are $45 each, with proceeds helping to fund Flower Piano." A full schedule of performances and programs, with links for ticket purchase to select events, is available at

Endnote: The "Truth & Beauty" presser was Max Hollein's last as Director of the Fine Arts Museums/SF. He has left for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Observers are sorry to see him go. He brought panache, class and continental charm to the museums during his brief tenure.


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