|SCHOOL OF ROCK — THE MUSICAL|
Andrew Lloyd Webber was the dominant Broadway musical composer of the 1980s with mega-hits like Evita, Cats and the still-playing longest-running Broadway musical of all time, The Phantom of the Opera. But until now he hasn’t brought a new show to Broadway since the short-lived Woman in White in 2005. Although judging by his later output he seems an odd candidate to compose the music for a stage adaptation of the popular Jack Black movie, his score (written with lyricist Glenn Slater) is one of the highlights of School of Rock — The Musical, a mixed bag of a show in which a loser musician turns a class of prep school kids into a band.
Alex Brightman tackles the herculean task of stepping to Black’s beat-up high-tops with aplomb as Dewey Finn. When his friend substitute-teacher friend Ned (Spencer Moses) and Ned’s girlfriend Patty (Mamie Parris) threaten to kick him out of if he doesn’t pay the rent he owes, Dewey seizes an opportunity to make some quick cash while he prepares for a battle of the bands competition: He impersonates Ned and takes a job as a long-term substitute at a posh private school but doesn’t take much interest in his students until he realizes they’re talented musicians in the school orchestra and that he can turn them into the band he needs for the contest.
And what a talented bunch of kids they are! A pre-show announcement from Lloyd Webber assures us that the kids — Brandon Niederauer (guitar), Evie Dolan (bass), Jared Parker (keyboards) and Dante Melucci (drums) — do in fact play their own instruments. In addition, Isabella Russo as class leader Summer and Bobbi MacKenzie as Tomika, a shy student with some powerful pipes, shine in their roles. It’s a joy watching the young ensemble rock their way through a song called “Stick It to the Man,” the Act I finale.
It’s a polished production thanks to director Laurence Connor and choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter, but unfortunately the main character is Dewey, and charm is not his strong point. Despite Brightman’s musical and comedic skills, there’s no getting around the fact that Dewey is a self-involved asshole who uses the students for what he hopes will be his own gain. There’s little evidence of the desperate man that exists within or that he’s grown into a better person by the end.
Yet for two-and-a-half hours we’re expected to believe that Dewey is just what these smart but underappreciated kids need because their parents are pushing them too hard and their teachers can’t relate to them. It’s shocking that the person who adapted the show from Mike White’s screenplay is none other than Julian Fellowes, the TV writer whose rich and unexpected characterization has steered Downton Abbey since the beginning.
Not faring much better is Sierra Boggess as school principal Rosalie Mullins, a gal who used to get down to Stevie Nicks but now needs a kiss from Dewey to set her soul a-stirring. Still, she gets the show’s best number, “Where Did the Rock Go?,” a beautiful ballad about rekindling one’s youthful passion.
One wonders if it’s a question Lloyd Webber asked himself as he returned to the sounds that first brought him acclaim with Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He’s delivered a rollicking score, even though School of Rock doesn’t have the pluck to be truly memorable.
By Diane Snyder
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Alex Brightman, Sierra Boggess, Spencer Moses, Mamie Parris, Evie Dolan, Carly Gendell, Ethan Khusidman, Bobbie MacKenzie, Dante Melucci, Brandon Niederauer, Luca Padovan, Jared Parker, Isabella Russo
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 11/9/2015
Winter Garden Theatre
New York, NY 10019