|Evie Dolan, Alex Brightman, and Brandon Niederauer . Photo by Matthew Murphy,|
School of Rock Teaches Lessons About How to Make a Great Musical
By Lauren Yarger
It has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, a book by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”) and a high-powered rock star performance. If that isn’t enough, School of Rock, the stage adaptation of the popular 2003 movie starring Jack Black, has a ton of tiny talents – amazing pre-teen kids who sing and dance and play their own instruments to rock out the house at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre.
It’s really good. In fact, I saw it twice because the first two times I had seats, star Alex Brightman was out and I had to go back. It was no hardship, believe me. (Thank goodness it wasn’t China Doll.)
Webber has composed a score (supervised by Ethan Popp) that doesn’t sound anything like his past accomplishments (Evita, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar to name a few), but which totally captures the spirit of this comedy and setting (lyrics are by Glenn Slater). Fellowes also shows his ability to diversify, so no one in his adaptation of Mike White’s screenplay sounds like Lord Grantham chatting with Mr. Carson….
The story follows ne’er-do-well Dewey Finn (Brightman) who gets kicked out of his band right before the Battle of the Bands competition. He has been crashing at the home of his best friend, Ned Schneebly (Spencer Moses), but when Dewey can’t come up with the rent, Ned’s shrill, bossy girlfriend, Patty (Mamie Parris) tells Ned to throw him out.
Desperate, Dewey pretends to be Ned and shows up for a high paying substitute teaching gig at Horace Green, a posh, private prep school overseen by uptight Rosalie Mullins (Sierra Boggess) who has as much love for rules and order as Ned does for rock music. The two, obviously, immediately clash.
When Dewey discovers that some of his kids play instruments and sing, he urges them to trade classical for rock and they become “The School of Rock” to compete in the Battle of the Bands. While they rehearse and keep the band a secret from their parents and Rosalie, the “teacher’ and his students form a bond, especially since Dewey believes in them and listens to their needs when their parents won’t. The kids express their pain and longing for parental approval in “If Only You Would Listen.”
Dewey becomes a real friend to:
· Shy Tomika (Bobbi Mackenzie, vocals) who can’t make her gay fathers understand that she misses her old school and friends even if they think the new prep school is best for her. When she finds her voice, it’s with a heartfelt rendering of “Amazing Grace” that makes us wonder how such a powerful voice is coming out of such a little girl.
· Geeky Lawrence (Jared Parker, keyboard) who doesn’t know how to fit in and be cool. He is a hoot as the nerd sex god.
· Fashion-loving Billy (Luca Padovan) who doesn’t want to play football like his father and grandfather before him, but who prefers to read Vogue and design the band’s costumes.
· Over-achiever Summer (Isabella Russo) who manages her mother and is obsessed with getting gold stars and getting into the right college.
· Zack (Brandon Niederauer, electric guitar), who could be the next Jimmy Hendrix, but whose work-obsessed father never seems to have time to listen.
· Freddy (Dante Melucci, drums), whose father wants him to pick up a hammer rather than a drum stick.
· And the rest of the band: Katie (Evie Dolan, bass), James (Jersey Sullivan), Sophie (Corinne Wilson), Madison (Shahadi Wright Joseph), Shonelle (Taylor Caldwell), Marcy (Carly Gendell) and Mason (Ethan Khusidman).
Director Laurence Connor puts the cast through fast paces on a simple, quick-change set designed by Anna Louizos, who also designs costumes. Most of the outfits for Boggess are rather ill-fitting -- perhaps a visualization of “uptight” ? -- but they definitely are unflattering. Direction gets an assist from excellent Lighting Designer Natasha Katz who helps focus the action.
JoAnn M. Hunter (with Associate Choreographer Patrick O’Neill) uses a lot of high-energy jumping and stomping to give the kids movement for the loud rock numbers “Stick it to the Man,” and “You’re in the Band.”
Brightman gets a workout as he rocks the school for almost two and a half hours (you get the feeling he genuinely likes these kids while he’s doing it) and makes Headmistress Mullins wonder what happened to the free-spirited girl she used to be. That ballad, “Where Did the Rock Go,” is the type of soul-gripping melody that makes Andrew Lloyd Webber one of my favorite composers.
Some things missing in this otherwise very satisfying production:
· Any spark of chemistry between Dewey and Rosalie. They don’t seem a good match and Boggess doesn’t seem comfortable in the role. We never quite believe her uptight schoolmarm or her secret obsession with Stevie Nicks.
· Sound (designed by Mick Potter) problems occurred in both performances I saw. Can’t hear the lyrics in some of the louder numbers and for part of a performance, Boggess’s microphone wasn’t working.
Don’t let that stop you from seeing this musical, though. I totally enjoyed it – twice – and would go see it again. The understudies I saw in a number of roles rocked out just as well as the stars, especially young Ava Della Pietra who captured the audience’s heart with Katie’s bass face.
School of Rock plays at the Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway, NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $59 - $145: (212) 239-6200;
Emily Cramer, Natalie Charle Ellis, Alan H. Green, Michael Hartney, John Hemphill, Merritt David Janes, Gavin Kim, Jeffrey Samuel Kishinevskiy, Lulu Lloyd, Jaygee Macapugay, Cassie Okenka, Patrick O’Neill, Ava Della Pietra, Sofia Roma Rubino, Tally Sessions, Jesse Swimm, Jonathan Wagner, Hayden Wall, Jeremy Woodard
Christians might also like to know:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Lyrics have Jesus throwing Dewey a beer
-- A prayer to the gods of rock