“School of Rock”, which is playing at The Winter Garden Theatre, marks the Broadway return of the legendary composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. Although he has not brought a new musical to broadway in quite some time, rest assured, Webber is back where he belongs.
This new musical, which is based off of the 2003 film of the same name, follows Dewey Finn (Alex Brightman), a slacker who just got kicked out of his band “No Vacancy” when the show begins. After Dewey gets kicked out of his band, he is at an all-time low. He doesn’t have a job and is stuck living with his nerdy friend Ned (Stephen Booth) and Ned’s uptight girlfriend Patty (Becky Gulsvig). Ned works as a substitute teacher, and when the principal of his new school Rosalie Mulins (Jenn Gambatese) calls asking for Ned, Dewey pretends to be Ned and accepts the position. The job at first is very boring to Dewey. Once he finds out that the students are very skilled musicians, he decides to turn them into a rock band. The band at first is a way for Dewey to get back at “No Vacancy” after cutting him off. As the show goes on, Dewey truly develops a bond with the children.
Alex Brightman is a true star as Dewey Finn. His vocals are outstanding throughout, but especially in Dewey’s act one showcase “When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock”, and in the show-stopping number “Stick it to the Man”. Brightman, along with having expert comic timing, also displays excellent chemistry with his young co-stars. Although at some points Brightman is paying homage to Jack Black’s incredible performance in the movie, Brightman truly makes this role his own. He is absolutely wonderful in the part, and delivers a great performance.
As incredible as Alex Brightman is as Dewey Finn, the children in the cast are just as impressive. The children all play their own instruments. By the time the roof-raising finale “Teacher’s Pet” comes along, the audience forgets that they are watching kid musicians. It is really a sight to behold.
Although all of the children deliver absolutely spectacular performances, some standouts include Olivia Chun as the studious Summer, Sammy Ramirez as the scene-stealing Billy and Amadi Chapata as the soulful Tomika.
Jenn Gambatese was a joy to watch as Rosalie Mullins, the rigid principle of the school Horace Green. Throughout the show, Dewey teaches Rosalie how to loosen up and really enjoy life again. Gambatese’s transformation throughout the show was a true highlight. Gambatese displayed excellent chemistry with Brightman and did an excellent job in her second act number “Where Did the Rock Go?”
Steven Booth was delightfully nerdy as Dewey’s friend, Ned. Although he did not have as much material musically, his energy with Brightman in their number together “Children of Rock” was very strong. Becky Gulsvig was hilariously harsh as Ned’s girlfriend Patty. The character of Patty does not have any solo numbers, but Gulsvig still does the most with the material that she is given.
The adult ensemble who play various roles display incredible energy and characterization. Most of the ensemble members play two to three roles. Their roles range from playing the parents of the children, to the security guards at the final Battle of the Bands competition. The ensemble brings life and energy into every one of their roles.
The score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, while not quite as memorable as his past hits, still manages to be toe-tapping and engaging. Some standouts in the score include the “You’re in the Band”, and the heart-warming ballad “If Only You Would Listen”. Glenn Slater provides smart lyrics for Webber’s numbers. Along with Webber’s new material, the classic songs by the writing team Ahrens and Flaherty, which includes the number “Teacher’s Pet” is also smartly incorporated into the musical.
Julian Fellowes’s book manages to stay true to the movie, while also adding some updated jokes to make this show relevant to today’s audience. While the first act is a little slow at times, Fellows really excels in Act Two as Dewey and the kids prepare for the Battle of the Bands competition.
The slick direction of Laurence Connor keeps the action moving at a fast pace. The set and costume design of Anna Louizos is extremely detailed. Most of the musical takes place in a classroom, but Louizos set is so intricately designed and really hits its stride in the Battle of the Bands sequence. Complete with stadium-style lighting by Natasha Katz, and Louizos’s flashy costumes, it is a beautiful sight.
The broadway adaption of “School of Rock” is not trying to be anything groundbreaking or life changing; it is just trying to give its audiences an incredible time at the theatre. This crowd pleasing musical is a rockin’ good time. If feel good entertainment is what you are looking for, then run, don’t walk, to the Winter Garden Theatre.