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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Winter Garden Theatre


  Sierra Bogges and the kids/ Ph: Matthew Murphy

Andrew Lloyd Webber became a theater legend writing musicals like Cats, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera. This year, he has a new show in town, School of Rock, based on the 2003 movie that starred the infectious Jack Black and was written by Mike White and directed by Richard Linklater.
The idea of turning it into a theatrical piece came from Lloyd Webber’s wife, Madeleine, who fell in love with the movie’s message – the effect of music on school kids – and spent six years securing the stage rights. She is now an executive producer on the production.
School of Rock is a more conventional Broadway effort for Lloyd Webber, much smaller than the operatic largeness of Evita or Phantom. There has been a nice audience reception for School of Rock for its unadulterated, simple theatrical fun. It seems to be one of those shows that is actor-proof, foolproof, critic-proof and G-rated for the whole family. Of course it does have loud rock and roll music, and anyone over 25 might need earplugs to dim out some of the deadening sound.
Lloyd Webber has written most of the music in the show, but he does include three songs from the movie, including the show’s title song, "School of Rock." An American lyricist, Glenn Slayer, provides affable words to Lloyd Webber’s songs, and Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame pens the show’s sophomoric book.
All the creators stick pretty close to White's movie script. The tale’s misbegotten hero, Dewey Finn (Alex Brightman), a tousled rock and roll musician down on his luck, surreptitiously lands a substitute teaching gig at a private grammar school named Horace Green, where the tuition is $50,000 a year. It’s run by a beautiful principal named Rosalie (Sierra Boggess), who, in the course of the show, becomes Dewey’s love interest.
Once Dewey adjusts to this new high-class academic environment, he begins to teach the kids the only thing he knows about: music. His sense of irreverence on these unruffled students taps their real musical talents, and they create a first-class virtuoso band.
Here there are hints of Meredith Willson’s 1958 The Music Man musical, with some plot choices that reminded me of that show’s main character, Harold Hill. School of Rock does not have any signature big Lloyd Webber songs like "Don’t Cry for Me Argentina" (Evita) or "Memories" (Cats). It does have a showstopper, “Stick It to the Man,” which is so reprised and encored, it tends to stick in the audience's head. It allows the kids to get loose in a musical number. Here they don’t really dance, even though the show does have a choreographer, JoAnn M. Hunter. It is more like rock and roll unison leg and arm movements to the music. My favorite is an up-down jumping pogo-like dance without the pogo sticks.
The score can be easily sung by children. This has always been one of Lloyd Webber’s unique talents – think of Cats, Starlight Express. It goes back to 1968 when he and lyricist Tim Rice wrote their first 15-minute piece, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, for an end-of- term concert for the Colet Court School Boys Choir in London. This launched them both and started them on a career of creating theater pieces.
Brightman gives a frenetic performance as Dewey. I wish it were a more original take on the role, and less like Black. He gets the job done, but doesn't have Black's comic-wicked persona. Fellowes does not give Boggess much to do as the principal except to be charming. In act two, at a roadhouse bar, she gets to take off her glasses and let down her hair, and let us hear her lovely voice singing a torch song, “Where Did the Rock Go?,” about her feelings for Dewey. The other two featured leads, Ned (Spencer Moses), the guy who Dewey hoodwinks out of the job at Horace Green, and his girlfriend Patty (Mamie Parris) turn out to be bland uninteresting stock characters.
Director Laurence Connor keeps the show's pace hopping. Anna Louizos' scenery is so conventional that the Horace Green school and the rock concert setting smack of the same similar air of drab. Her costumes, mostly school kid garb, also just melt into the pallid settings. Natasha Katz's brilliant lighting breathes a sense of theatricality into the on stage proceedings.
What makes School of Rock shine are the more than a dozen kids. Talking, singing, dancing – at school or competing at the Battle of the Bands – these geniuses give it the lift that makes it a hit.


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