In his first original musical on Broadway in a decade, Andrew Lloyd Webber has chosen to adapt a movie with a plot that could hardly be sillier, and supplies a new score that could hardly be more addictive. School of Rock – The Musical is full of both hard-charging rock n roll and supremely catchy melodies.
An implicit message of the musical — that rocking and stomping are far more important to fourth graders than math or history – could make a convincing case for the depravity of rock n roll. But if anybody is still alive to be receptive to that argument, they’re sure to be won over by the thrilling performances by the baker’s dozen of talented kids, several sure to share stardom with the adults.
Following closely the 2003 Jack Black movie, Alex Brightman portrays Dewey Finn, a slob and a loser, who’s never given up his dream of being a rock god, even when the band he formed kicks him out.
The show gets the rock world right from the start, the first couple of numbers credibly returning Lloyd Webber to his rock roots musically, while lyricist Slater offers a spot-on spoof of the narcissism and self-delusion of those aspiring to rock stardom: “I’m Too Hot For You,” and “When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock.”
Dewey has been staying at the home of his old high school friend and former band mate, Ned Schneebly (Spencer Moses) who’s become a straitlaced substitute teacher henpecked by his shrewish girlfriend Patty (a thankless role undertaken by Mamie Parris.) Patty insists that Dewey stop freeloading and start paying rent, but Dewey doesn’t have any money, and he doesn’t want to take the time away from his goal of competing in the Battle of the Bands, even though he no longer has a band. One day, the principal of Horace Green Prep School, Rosalie Mullins (a terrific Sierra Boggess) calls Ned up with the intention of offering him a job as a substitute. Dewey, the only one home, answers the phone, and, when he hears how much it pays, pretends to be Ned, and takes the job.
At this point, Lloyd Webber effortlessly shifts the music completely. The “Horace Green Alma Mater” song, in which Boggess effects a mock-operetta voice, is in fact a lovely tune that any school would be proud to adopt. It’s followed by “Here at Horace Green,” this one in the style of traditional Broadway musical comedy.
That Dewey is nearly criminally unsuitable as a substitute teacher is supposed to be hilarious, and surely some will find it so. But the class dynamic works better once Dewey, overhearing them in music class performing Mozart’s Queen of the Night, decides that they will be the band he will take to win the Battle of the Bands.
“I thought you were just a bunch of little douche bags. Now I know you’re soul brothers and soul sisters!… I’m not alone! Oh, God! I am not alone!”
The kids he puts together for the band – or, more accurately, those cast by the creative team – don’t just sing exquisitely and dance with infectious abandon, they also reportedly play the musical instruments themselves – astonishing if true.
Particularly memorable in Dewey’s School of Rock band are Brandon Niederauer as the guitarist, a mean man with a riff, Evie Dolan as Katie the bass player, and Jared Parker as keyboardist Lawrence, who initially doesn’t want to join because he doesn’t think he’s cool enough.
But rock gives all of Dewey’s students self-confidence, and a path to finding their true selves. When Dewey designates Summer (the wonderfully precocious Isabella Russo) as the groupie, she refuses. (“Groupies are sluts.”) So he makes her the band’s manager.
To motivate them to take the Battle of the Band seriously, he knows how to appeal to these diminutive overachievers: “There’s no question that a win will go on your permanent record.”
One by one we see how the parents of these fourth-graders ignore them, or pressure them, or in one way or another are bad or at least clueless parents. This would be harder to take if it weren’t the lead-in to the most gorgeous songs in the show, “If Only You Would Listen,” which, when reprised, is led gloriously by 11-year-old Bobbi McKenzie as Tomika.
Similarly, the improbable but inevitable romance between Dewey and Rosalie leads to Boggess’ beautifully rendered “Where Did The Rock Go?”
But the show is a school for Rock, and there is plenty of hard-driving music here, including several from the movie. The one most likely to stick in your ear past show time is Stick It To The Man:
Rant and rave
And scream and shout
get all of your aggression out
they try to stop you,
let ‘em know
exactly where they all can go–
and do it just as loudly as you can– stick it to the man!
School of Rock – The Musical is onstage at the Winter Garden Theatre, 50th Street and Broadway, NYC.
Details and tickets
School of Rock – The Musical . Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber . Lyrics by Glenn Slater . Book by Julian Fellowes . Directed by Laurence Connor . Choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter . Scenic and Costume Design by Natasha Katz . Sound design by Mick Potter. Cast: Alex Brightman as Dewey Finn, Sierra Boggess as Rosalie Mullins, Spencer Moses as Ned, Mamie Parris as Patty, Evie Dolan as Katie, Carly Gendell as Marcy, Ethan Khusidman as Mason, Bobbie MacKenzie as Tomika, Dante Melucci as Freddy, Brandon Niederauer as Zack, Luca Padovan as Billy, Jared Parker as Lawrence and Isabella Russo as Summer. Reviewed by Jonathan Mandell.