School of Rock: EW stage review

8 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘School of Rock': How Andrew Lloyd Webber has changed musical theater.

Two members of the British House of Lords have written a show about a scruffy American rocker who can’t pay his rent and turns a bunch of school kids into a rock ‘n’ roll band.Andrew Lloyd Webber has admitted he had almost “forgotten what it is like to have a hit” as he celebrates his new musical “absolutely flying” after it opened in New York.

You could say the movie “School of Rock” already was a musical of sorts, but never mind: “School of Rock: The Musical” just opened on Broadway, with a whole heap of new tunes by Andrew Lloyd Webber.“School” tells the story of musician Dewey Finn, who takes a job as a substitute teacher at a private school and gets his students excited about rock ‘n’ roll. As School of Rock had its official star-studded unveiling, Lloyd Webber said it was a “lovely feeling” for the show to be so well-received and announced it would be coming to the West End next year. The show stars Alex Brightman as Dewey as well as “The Phantom of the Opera” actress Sierra Boggess as uptight principal Rosalie and Brandon Niederauer, Jared Parker, Isabella Russo, and Bobbi MacKenzie, among others, as Dewey’s students.

Critics proclaimed he had got his “friskiness” back with the show, written by Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, as an adaptation of the film of the same name. After lying his way into a substitute-teaching gig to make some quick cash, Dewey’s faced with a gaggle of high-achieving but emotionally stunted kids, misunderstood by their domineering parents — the show’s book, by Julian “Downton Abbey” Fellowes, faithfully follows the movie, adding a bit more background on the families. When the show was announced, the fact that “School” was being adapted for Broadway wasn’t all that surprising – it’s far from the first critically well-received hit to come to the Great White Way. It’s been a long time but it’s absolutely flying here.” He has announced that the show will extend to a second company in America and will grant more than 200 schools the rights to perform it for themselves. Everybody else remains on the plot’s outskirts, including Sierra Boggess in the thankless role of Rosalie, the principal and Stevie Nicks aficionado.

Hopefully, it’s something that you will go to and say, ‘I had a really good time,’ but hopefully, you will also take out of it the central message of the story, which is a very warm and very simple one, which is about the empowering force of music.” The creative team has fleshed out the characters of the children and their relationship with their parents, says Downton Abbey creator Lord Julian Fellowes. “I think we’ve defined the other children rather more than in the film, and given them a situation and given them problems,” Fellowes says. “So we know, I think slightly more clearly, the effect that [Jack Black’s character] Dewey is having on them and having on their lives.” These days, with such hit musicals as Annie and Matilda, seeing kids who can act and dance and sing is nothing particularly new, but seeing them actually play their instruments may be the show’s biggest appeal, says Lloyd Webber. “I mean, it’s extraordinary for their age just how great they are. …” he says. “You close your eyes and you’d say “Oh gosh, this is a band that’s played together for three or four years.’ You wouldn’t really think that they’re, you know, 10 and 11 year olds!” “I went into the audition, auditioning with my ukulele,” she says. “And then, at the next audition, they asked me to bring my bass. It is Lloyd Webber’s first new musical since Stephen Ward, which closed after a short run in London, and is one of his first major US projects since recovering from prostate cancer in 2009 and a recent back operation. If the musical does indeed muscle its way back up the chart as expected, it’d join a handful of its fellow fall openers up there: Estefan bio-musical “On Your Feet!” ($1,208,093), previewing “Fiddler on the Roof” ($1,062,494) and Al Pacino-David Mamet pairing “China Doll” ($1,109,962).

Sadly, the show’s adult women are either straight-laced or shrewish, while the little girls are stuck in rock’s traditional parts: playing bass (as usual), managing the band (ditto), and singing backup — though Bobbi MacKenzie’s power-lunged Tomika gets a quick turn in the spotlight before returning to the sidelines. Dewey liberates his new charges by introducing them to the wild world of rock ’n’ roll, but his intentions aren’t entirely altruistic: He needs a backing group to enter a battle of the bands. His 1970s musicals “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Evita,” and “Cats” all became hits and “Phantom” was the biggest of all. But on Monday he insisted this was not the reason for choosing to open on Broadway, saying he and his team wanted to bring an American story to life in its rightful home. “With me being British and Julian Fellowes being British, to try to do this in London would be us trying to ‘do American’. With Jennifer Hudson among its cast, this “Purple,” which earned raves in London, has held fairly steady but is no doubt hoping for a spike should reviews in New York match the ones it received abroad.

Until a few years ago, it was also the highest-grossing Broadway musical of all time, though the Disney show “The Lion King” has now surpassed it. One scene, in which a girl auditions with a screeching version of Memory, the song from Cats, is called “a disarming signal that its creator is sending up the importance of being Andrew Lloyd Webber”. In a week that mostly saw declines at individual productions — including at “Allegiance” ($392,728, off 20% compared to the previous week) — the most notable rise came at “Misery” ($827,287), the Bruce Willis starrer that suffered a bit during the Turkey Day frame.

It’s not that rare to find ridiculously talented young musicians in the age of YouTube, but it’s still a thrill to see the likes of guitarist Brandon Niederauer and drummer Dante Melucci bash out Lloyd Webber’s catchiest tunes in years. How is the influence of Webber’s shows still being felt today? “Superstar” arrived as Broadway musicals based more in the rock genre were gaining popularity. Other assessments were more mixed, with the Los Angeles Times hailing the cast of children as “a breath of fresh air in a musical that too often settles for stale competence”. Well-reviewed revival “A View from the Bridge” ($533,251) remained level with the prior week, and “King Charles III” ($569,005) barely faltered.

Such shows as “Superstar,” “Hair,” and “Grease” all added a more modern feel to Broadway musicals and could be said to have paved the way for more current hits like “Spring Awakening” and the current smash “Hamilton,” which incorporates hip-hop sounds, among many other genres. Speaking on the red carpet at the official opening night of the musical, fan Dame Helen Mirren, said: “I loved the movie, it made me laugh like a drain. Overall Broadway sales dropped $4.2 million to $29.6 million for 37 shows now running, and attendance dipped about 11,000 to 276,963 or 76% of Broadway’s cumulative capacity.

Over the next few weeks sales should remain healthy, if not stratospheric, ahead of the holiday boom that comes every year around Christmas and New Year’s. With crowd-pleasers like “Phantom” and “Les Mis,” the familiar titles may attract Broadway visitors unfamiliar with other productions and audience members can be lured in with the promise of spectacle.

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