Review: ‘School of Rock’ at Winter Garden Theater
On a cold wintry day, well over a year ago, hundreds of children no more than five foot tall – with parents in tow – lined up outside the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway to audition for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newest musical, “School of Rock.” The musical talent those young performers brought with them, an usher who was there that day told me, was immense and the theater experienced a marked change from the purring felines that had inhabited its stage for some 18 years.
“School of Rock” is based on the blockbuster 2003 film of the same title by Richard Linklater, with a book by Julian Fellowes (yes, that Baron Fellowes of “Downton Abbey” fame) and lyrics by Glenn Slater. It’s a great showcase of young talent but it lacks both the familiarity of a jukebox musical (although some themes are clearly Lloyd Webber) and a plot that will keep the audience on the edge of their seats. It has, however, been updated with the addition of thoroughly-2016 references including gluten-free foods and gay marriage.
Dewey Finn (Alex Brightman) is a rocker bro who sponges off long-time friend and former band mate Ned (Spencer Moses) and assumes (steals would be a better word) his identity as a substitute teacher after being kicked out of a rock band he formed. Using Ned’s name and credentials, he accepts a job teaching at a prestigious school, Horace Green, landing a class that is filled with bright, musical underachievers.
While he at first sees the children in his class as a means to an end, namely winning a battle of the bands and the cash prize that comes along with it, he begins to develop genuine feelings for them. It is then that he realizes their musical accomplishments could make a marked difference in their lives which, in the brief glance the audience gets into the students’ home life, are dominated by indifferent and unaware parents who only see the dollar signs of the tuition bill (tuition at Horace Green is $50,000 per year).
While the plot is thin, the sets show great attention to detail, the choreography is grand, and the kids are simply amazing. As a voiceover at the start of the show by Andrew Lloyd Weber says, they play their own instruments, and there’s no question in this reviewer’s mind that many of them will find their own place in the music world.
The development of principal Rosalie Mullins, delightfully played by Sierra Boggess (picture a sexy-librarian-dominatrix singing Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria from “The Magic Flute” and you have the image), is memorable, as is the splendidly choreographed anti-establishment anthem “Stick It to the Man,” which will probably be the only tune you hum as you leave the theater.
There are both far better and far worse musicals on Broadway and off-Broadway stages, but if you want to see a group of extremely talented fifth graders who will go on to bigger and better things, this is the place to do so.
(Photos: Accura Media Group)