School of Rock has burst onto the Broadway stage with electric energy, extremely talented child actors, and the vibe of a rock concert. Based on the 2003 film of the same name, this musical features a book by Julian Fellowes and fourteen new songs written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater, in addition to the songs featured in the movie. School of Rock follows Dewy Finn, a washed-up rock star, who poses as a substitute teacher at Horace Green, a prestigious private school, to make a little extra money. After hearing his students play in music class, he abandons the typical day-to-day schedule and creates a curriculum based solely around rock music, turning his class into a mind-blowing rock band.
Alex Brightman plays the role of Dewy Finn. Mr. Brightman has a large, animated personality that fills the stage and the entirety of the Winter Garden Theatre with ease. He delivers a performance that is high-energy and goofy but incredibly inspiring as Dewy brings his students out of their shells. It’s clear the relationship Mr. Brightman has with the children is incredibly strong and filled with care. His character becomes a father figure to his students and as he brings out the best in them, the kids bring out the best in him, helping Dewy to grow from the depressed, wannabe rock star to a man who inspires people to become who they really are. Mr. Brightman’s performance truly captures this.
Sierra Boggess, a longtime collaborator with Mr. Lloyd Webber, plays the uptight, strict Principal Rosalie Mullins. From her conservative glasses and costumes to the way she carries herself across the stage, it is evident Rosalie is a woman who adheres by the rules and frowns upon laziness and disregard for the curriculum. Dewy immediately tests her prescribed regimens when he arrives an hour and a half late for his first day of subbing. Ms. Boggess brings a level of stoicism and class to the show that is reflected in her musical style. While most of the show’s music is of the rock genre, Ms. Boggess’ sings numbers that are much more classical in style. In the “Horace Green Alma Mater”, she sings operatically, highlighting her character’s stern exterior. Her Act II solo, “Where Did the Rock Go?” shows a different side of Rosalie when she reveals that she once was carefree, but pressure from her parents turned her into the person she is. This song is a departure from Rosalie’s earlier, more operatic musical moments in the show, giving Ms. Boggess an opportunity to cut loose and show her full musical ability as well as to free Rosalie from the convention that she so tightly clings to.
The young actors, about elementary or middle school aged, who play the students are the best part about the show. Their talent is immeasurable as they sing, dance, act, and play instruments live onstage. All 13 of them stand out, but Bobbi Mackenzie, Brandon Niederauer, and Isabella Russo were the most memorable. Ms. Mackenzie plays the shy, soft-spoken Tomika. She says very little for most of the show until an incredible moment in Act II when she speaks to Dewy about joining the band. She says she’s a singer, not a backup singer and in a marvelous acapella rendition of “Amazing Grace” both Tomika and Ms. Mackenzie prove that she is indeed a singer. Mr. Niederauer is Zack, the guitarist in the band. Zack always seems to be holding back and not showing his true feelings. He lets loose during the song “Stick it to the Man” and pours all of his emotion into his exceptional guitar solo. Ms. Russo plays Summer, the mini version of Rosalie. She too follows the rules and has no time for nonsense, frequently butting heads with Dewy about small things, such as the star chart for good behavior. One of the show-stopping moments of the show comes in Act I when all of the kids sing “If You Would Only Listen”. They sing about their resentment towards their parents for not making enough time for them and not really caring for them as parents should. It is a touching moment where the audience is let in on the reason why the students are uptight and strive for perfection.
The sets designed by Anna Louizos move seamlessly as they change from Dewy’s room to the school to the venue for the Battle of the Bands. The halls of Horace Green are clean, polished, and lined with trophies, accentuating the ideals that Rosalie expresses in “Here at Horace Green”. The venue for the Battle of the Bands is a cleverly designed rotating platform that provides the ability to have scenes occur backstage before and after the performance. The lighting design by Natasha Katz (who won the Tony Award for her lighting design in An American in Paris) gives the show a rock concert feel for most of the show as well as evoking the spirit of Horace Green in its dimly lit hallways.
Book writer Julian Fellowes (creator and writer of Downton Abbey and book writer for the Broadway
version of Mary Poppins) has followed the script of the movie very closely. It is well written with a few modern updates that when mixed with the songs flesh out the important moments of the show. The songs by Mr. Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater are enthusiastic and let the characters explore their feelings, as well as providing an excellent outlet for the creation of the band.
School of Rock is a testament to the power music has on both children and adults. With the essence of a rock concert, the immeasurable talent of the kids in the show, and the many huge musical moments, School of Rock leaves you energized and wanting to join the band.