“School of Rock”

Winter Garden Theatre


With “School of Rock” now playing at the Winter Garden Theatre, it’s good to see Andrew Lloyd Webber with a new hit musical on Broadway.  After a string of shows that didn’t quite work out (such as “The Woman in White” and “Love Never Dies,” among others) Lloyd Webber has come back to town with a solid new musical.  What’s more, the composer has triumphed by returning to his “Jesus Christ Superstar” roots: his score for “School of Rock” (with lyrics by Glenn Slater) contains some of his catchiest, rock-themed songs in decades.  The effect is positively revivifying.

Of course, it also helps that “School of Rock” is pretty irresistible in the very fact that it features a bunch of kids playing instruments onstage who are positively fantastic.  Add in a super, star-making performance by Alex Brightman and you truly have the ingredients for success.  “School of Rock” might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it must be said that it is definitely a show that works.

Based on the 2003 film of the same name, starring Jack Black, “School of Rock” was an ideal movie to turn into a musical, simply because the plot already contained kids playing music and performing onstage.  The story in the musical follows the film very faithfully: a down-on-his-luck guitar player, Dewey Finn, is mistakenly hired to be a substitute teacher at a strict private school, and he manages to win the students over by transforming them into a rock band and eventually having them compete at a “Battle of the Bands.”  And, by having the kids play music, he also helps them come out of their shells and feel more positive about themselves.

In addition to the excellent kids onstage, the musical of “School of Rock” also contains a good book by Julian Fellowes and, as mentioned, a superior score by Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater.  The leading performers are also pretty great.  As Dewey, Alex Brightman is a real live wire onstage, bouncing from one scene to the next, while singing and playing the guitar, to the point where one might wonder where he finds the energy.  It is obvious that this actor realizes what a terrific role he’s got and he truly makes the most of it.

Also shining in “School of Rock” is Sierra Boggess as the school’s hardnosed principal.  Not to give too much away, but she does eventually mellow out during the show, so there is a definite arc that this character makes.  A glorious soprano, Boggess delivers the second act song “Where Did the Rock Go?” splendidly and she also brings a sweetness to the role that will be hard to replace. (It should be noted that Jenn Gambatese has now taken over the part).

If the other adult actors in “School of Rock” don’t really get a chance to stand out, they still do good work.  And then there are the kids in the show.  I would hate to single any one of them out simply because, both individually and as a group, they are pretty glorious.  What’s more, they get such good songs to sing as the touching “If Only You Would Listen” and the defiant theme, “Stick it to the Man.”  Finally, when it comes to them playing rock music, this group of young actors is truly second to none.

“School of Rock” is also a good-looking show, with effective scenic design and costume design by Anna Louizos and dynamite lighting by Natasha Katz.  The music direction by Darren Ledbetter is also fantastic and sound designer, Mick Potter, is absolutely ideal and deserves some kind of special award alone for his work.  Director Laurence Connor keeps the show moving at a good clip, with nice help from choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter, who has staged the kids’ rock numbers superbly.

“School of Rock” features a definite return to form for Andrew Lloyd Webber in composing such catchy rock numbers as “You’re in the Band” and Alex Brightman’s first song, “When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock.”  Indeed, Lloyd Webber strikes gold with his star Alex Brightman and all those wonderful kids onstage.  By all means, get to the Winter Garden Theatre (former home to Lloyd Webber’s musical “Cats”), for “School of Rock” definitely does rock and is almost sure to bring a smile to your face.

“School of Rock” continues performances at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway for the foreseeable future.  For tickets, please visit www.SchoolOfRocktheMusical.com or call Telecharge at 212-239-6200.

Photo: Alex Brightman (center) and cast

Photo by Matthew Murphy




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