In our modern Broadway era, there have been several major “recent” trends: the rock musical, the musical satire, the majority child-cast musical, the hip hop musical, and more. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most recent musical (and his official “return” to Broadway), “School of Rock,” takes up several of these new trends, to successfully adapt the classic film of the same title. However, on that note, this musical is still absolutely enjoyable, even if you haven’t seen the original movie.
“School of Rock,” directed by Laurence Connor and located at the Winter Garden Theater, concerns Dewey, a wannabe rocker who sneaks his way into a gig teaching an elite private elementary school. Due to his incompetence as a teacher (and his need for musicians to form a new group for the battle of the bands), he decides to teach all his students how to play instruments. In the process of becoming a great rock band, they learn valuable lessons about identity, working together, and the importance of art.
On the one hand, this musical can come off as an “after school special” designed to teach children some important life lessons while also letting them enjoy a fun day at the theater. On the other hand, however, it is also an important piece of Broadway theater that combines genres, contains spectacular music, and represents an important moment in the history of musical theater.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer of “School of Rock,” is most famous for “The Phantom of the Opera,” as well as of slew of other classic hits like “Cats” and “Evita.” Though he is considered one of the most major figures on Broadway, he has not had a new show for quite some time (in America, that is). The last new show of his to be on American Broadway was “The Woman in White,” (2004) which ran for only three months and which Webber himself called a “spectacular Broadway flop.” Other than that, his other most notorious recent projects included “Love Never Dies” (the doomed sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera”) in 2010, “Wizard of Oz: The Musical” in 2011. Thus, the opening of “School of Rock” has certainly been dramatic, with rabid Webber fans anxious to see if he once again wrote a hit smash.
Thankfully, he has. Fans of Webber and musical theater, in general, have greatly enjoyed this new show, which is full of adorably sassy children, hilarious rock anthems, and an extremely talented cast of child and adult actors. Special accolades go to Alex Brightman, the Jack Black lookalike who plays Dewey in all his comedic glory, and Sierra Boggess, who plays the uptight headmistress Rosalie with grace and humor, not to mention flawless soprano vocals, both operatic and rock (you may also recognize her from Webber shows like “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Love Never Dies”). Most of the children were also quite talented, and several of them played their actual rock instruments on stage. Bobbi Mackenzie as Tomika and Isabella Russo as Summer were particularly stunning, shocking audience by proving that children can belt their little hearts out just as well as the adults.
As a whole, “School of Rock” is a fun musical that very successfully combines the genre of rock musical (made famous by shows like “Rent”) with the genre of kid musicals (think “Matilda” or “Billy Elliot”). Webber has written shows with children before and has attempted to write musical with rock songs (like “Love Never Dies”), but something didn’t quite work. But in “School of Rock,” Webber has worked out all the kinks has made a very enjoyable musical that combines child actors and Broadway rock; it certainly looks like he has some more Tony awards in his future after all.