New York City Theater
"School of Rock"
Winter Garden Theater
Ready to rock? If you think you couldn’t possibly like the new musical “School of Rock” since you sure don’t like rock, think again. Its pedigree is a hint: music by, of all people, Andrew Lloyd Webber of pop opera fame, with lyrics by Glenn Slater, who’s written for Disney, and a book by Julian Fellows, the creator of “Downton Abbey.” Not a bad combination but leagues from what would be expected from such a swanky team.
Surprise! What emerges is a loud but charming, even touching piece of theater, made so by not only the performance of a dynamo named Alex Brightman in the role played in the movie version by Jack Black, but also the most talented and captivating kids this side of “Matilda.” Playing guitars, synthesizer and drums, singing with power and verve, the pre-teens all deserve Tonys of their own, or maybe Grammys.
The story isn‘t much; in fact, it will certainly remind you of “The Music Man,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and just about every piece about inspiring, unorthodox teachers (“Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” “Good Morning, Miss Dove,” “The Corn is Green,” etc.). This time, an aspiring musician named Dewey is broke and living with friends, a former rocker, now a substitute teacher, and his virago wife.
Intercepting a call to sub, Dewey pretends to be his friend and, although professionally unqualified, he’s faced with a bunch of privileged fifth-graders at a posh private school named Horace Green. Realizing the kids’ musical talents, he trains them with an eye to entering a Battle of the Bands contest. In the process, of course, they find their true, non-academic, confident voices.
The conflict, such as it is, involves inaccessible teachers, disapproving parents and a tightly wound principal (a solid Sierra Boggess) who, in keeping with the usual cliché, would be prettier if she just took off those glasses. She does, of course, as the kids triumph, parents are won over and the audience goes home happy.
Obviously, this is not a Nobel Prize plot but that’s not the goal – entertainment is. Not all the songs are by Webber and Slater but the take-away hit is likely to be their “Stick it to the Man” whose lyrics encourage rebellion against authority. (What else is new?)
Under Laurence Connor’s brisk direction, with jumpy choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter that would make St. Vitus happy, “School of Rock” is like being let out of classes for a day of fun and frolic.
--David A. Rosenberg
January 26, 2016