Monday, January 25, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: School of Rock TOP PICK

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;

Additional cast:
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
-- Language
-- Homosexuality
-- Lyrics have Jesus throwing Dewey a beer
-- A prayer to the gods of rock

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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