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A CurtainUp Review
School of Rock
By Elyse Sommer
It may not be big on originality, depth or high art, but like Wicked School of Rock is a four-ticket seller. And, judging by the audience at the last matinee before the official opening, it will have plenty of adults tapping into their inner rocker along with kids of all ages.
Not being a rockaholic myself, I would have liked the decibel level lowered — at least low enough to hear all the lyrics and to have me less worried about what being repeatedly right on stage will do to the eardrums of the super talented young ensemble. That said, those kids are irresistible; and so is Alex Brightman's animated, non-stop physical performance as their politically incorrect, substitute teacher. If the show follows the film's success, Brightman is likely to lose some of that out of shape chubbiness that's part of his character's persona, as it was for Jack Black in the film
I didn't see the original film but did read some recaps and reviews of it. Though the book is now by Julian Fellowes (yes, the same Fellowes who was responsible for the elegant period tv-soap opera Downton Abbey ), the staged School of Rock seems to remain true to that film's plot and humor, though probably sanitized for family audiences by Fellowes. Since, it's all pretty predictable even for anyone unfamiliar with the movie, I plead not guilty of being a spoilsport with this summary: Though his friend Ned (Spencer Morris) has abandoned his rock star dreams to become a licensed substitute teacher, Dewey Finn (Brightman) still nurtures that dream. But things aren't going well for him. He's been fired from his band and his record shop job, and Ned's girl friend Patty (Mamie Parris) wants him to pay rent or get out of their apartment. So, when Dewey answers a call for Ned to take on a high-paying gig at a private prep school, he impetuously pretends to be Ned. He's obviously highly unsuited for the job, especially given the school's rigid conformity. Yet, he soon enlists his fifth-grade clas to share his rock enthusiasm, form a band and ultimately win over uptight principal Rosalie Mullins (Boggess) and even the parents.
All these unbelievable but entertaining antics, are smoothly directed by Laurence Connor to lead to the kids exuberantly competing at the Battle of the Bands contest. It's a concert style finale, which means ultra loud and blindingly bright flashes of light
For all its adherence to the film, School of Rock combines new music by Mr. Webber and the unfortunately often drowned out lyrics by Glenn Slater with three of the film's songs ("The End of Time", "Math Is a Wonderful Thing" and the title song). Webber isn't nearly as out of his league as Dewey is at that elite school — remember Jesus Christ Superstar? The show's big breakout number, "Stick it to the Man," proves that he hasn't forgotten how to write catchy rock tunes. His "You're In the Band Now" cleverly includes quotes from a string of famous musicians (see the song list below). And with "Where Did the Rock Go?" he has, as usual, written a melodic ballad for leading lady Sierra Boggess. She also has a wonderful moment singing Mozart's "Queen of the Night" in a scene (mos like a Fellowes touch) in which she's leading the kids in a classical music lesson.
There are also plenty of bouncy numbers for the kids, most of whom are in their early teens and some even pre-teen. While Brightman's Dewey is the show's star, the youngsters are very much his co-stars and the emotional connection between this unlikely teacher and his students is nicely conveyed as Dewey helps all to gain confidence to show off their untapped instrument, singing and acting talents. He makes guitar prodigy Brandon Niederauer's Zack the band's lead guitarist, and lets Luca Padovan use his taste for female fashions as the group's "stylist." Even Summer (Isabella Russo), the class smarty pants , is roped in as the band's manager. Of course there's also the shyest student, Tonika (Robbie MacKenzie), to suddenly find her voice with a ,brief and lovely rendition of John Newton's "Amazing Grace. In his own frenzied way this rock obsessed slacker clearly isn't such a bad teacher. No wonder that when he's finally discovered and feeling down and out, the students bring him back with the winning "If Only You Would Listen."
The choreography by Joann M. Hunter consists mostly of hyper-active bobbing up and down. But with those youngsters doing the rocking it's great fun. Set and costume designer Anna Louizos deserves a shout out for the sliding walls she's created to take us to a variety of locations.
Forget about looking for any especially deep or controversial themes. Dewey's urging the kids to "stick it to the man" does touch on the redemptive and self-actualizing power of music even may strike some as putting down serious learning. But this really isn't a message musical. The overall improbability of everything keeps School of Rock strictly what it is — a not to be taken seriously hard rocking, feel good romp.
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School of Rock—The Musical
Book by Julian Fellowes based 2003 film of the same title
. Music from the movie, with new music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater
Directed by Laurence Connor
Cast: Sierra Boggess (Rosalie), Alex Brightman (Dewey), Spencer Moses (Ned), Mamie Parris (Patty), Taylor Caldwell (Shonelle), Evie Dolan (Katie), Carly Gendell (Marcy), Shahadi Wright Joseph (Madison), Ethan Khusidman (Mason), Bobbi MacKenzie (Tomika),Dante Melucci (Freddy), Brandon Niederauer (Zack), Luca Padovan (Billy),Jared Parker (Lawrence), Isabella Russo (Summer), Jersey Sullivan (James),Corinne Wilson (Sophie)
Ensemble: Emily Cramer,Natalie Charle Ellis, Alan H. Green, Michael Hartney, John Hemphill, Merritt David Janes, Jaygee Macapugay,Cassie Okenka, Tally Sessions,Jonathan Wagner, Jeremy Woodard.
Choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter
Scenic and Costume Design by Anna Louizos
Lighting Design by Natasha Katz
Sound Design by Mick Potter
Hair Design: Josh Marquette
Music Director: Darren Ledbetter
Stage Manager: Bonnie L. Baker
Time:2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Winter Garden Theater 634 Broadway, at 50th Street
From 11/02/15; opening 12/06/15
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 12/05 press matinee
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