E=McSquared: ‘School of Rock’ calculates cure for pandemic blues at MPAC this weekend

'School of Rock' at MPAC, June 2022. Photo: Thomas Salus Photography

The plot is as thin as a guitar string, and there is not much meat on these characters’ bones.

So if you’re seeking theatrical nutrition to chew on, School of Rock, The Musical is not for you.

But for frothy fun, you can’t beat this weekend’s sinful smoothie at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. The center’s eighth annual community production resumes a spring tradition after a two-year pandemic pause.

Students of Horace Green prep snap to attention in ‘School of Rock’ at MPAC, June 2022. Photo: Thomas Salus Photography

A big crowd left Friday’s opener on a sugar high, fueled by two hours of cute one-liners from a bunch of pint-sized players and a heaping helping of Bluto-esque bombast by the kids’ ersatz instructor.

Jon Rodriguez, a real-life teacher at MPAC’s performing arts school, portrays failed rocker Dewey Finn (posing as nervous substitute teacher Ned Schneebly), who was played by Jack Black in the 2003 movie, and by Alex Brightman in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2015 Broadway reboot. (Quiz on Monday!)

Jon Rodriguez as Dewey Finn and Avril Kagan, 11, as Summer in ‘School of Rock’ at MPAC, June 2022. Photo: Thomas Salus Photography

It’s a gruff and physical role. But Rodriguez, whose credits include a Vegas run in Jersey Boys, also brings a touch of tenderness to a story about breaking the rules to find common ground.

Needing rent money, he fakes his way into a substitute gig at a prep school, where he substitutes Rock and Roll for two of the Three R’s.

(For the third R, he improvises “E=McSquared,” which does not impress steely Principal Rosalie Mullins.)

Along the way, Jon/Ned/Dewey recruits a class of regimented, parent-prodded, proto-Ivy Leaguers for a Battle of the Bands.

Many cast members are tweens, and a few of them really play their instruments. Some of the funniest lines are written for the prim-and-proper Summer, and for Billy, whose secret dreams of fashion design clash with his father’s football blueprint.

Amelia Corcroan as Katie and Jon Rodriguez as Dewey Finn in ‘School of Rock’ at MPAC, June 2022. Photo: Thomas Salus Photography

The quips are delivered with brio by 11-year-old Avril Kagan of Mendham and Grady Wayne Lee Hall, a 6th grader at Assumption School in Morristown.

Another name to watch is Juliette Trumbull. The Morristown High School senior shines as Principal Mullins, a role demanding an operatic vocal range and the ability to shift gears from stern to silly in the space of an intermission.

Jon Rodriguez as Dewey Finn and 18-year-old Morristown High senior Juliette Trumbull as Principal Rosalie Mullins in ‘School of Rock’ at MPAC, June 2022. Photo: Thomas Salus Photography

When School of Rock hit Broadway, one critic called it “The Sound of Music without the Nazis.”

Ari Mandel, 14, shreds in ‘School of Rock’ at MPAC, June 2022. Photo: Thomas Salus Photography

The score doesn’t quite rival the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. Yet You’re In the Band and Stick It to the Man keep repeating on my mental playlist.

And slurping up all those calories on Friday felt mighty comforting, after a steady diet of grim headlines.

The Mayo Performing Arts Center presents its annual spring musical, School of Rock, directed by Cathy Roy with musical direction by Charles Santoro, on Saturday, June 4, 2022, at 2 pm and 7:30 pm; and Sunday, June 5, at 2 pm. Tickets: $20-$35. At 100 South St., Morristown, (973) 539-8008.

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