It was a big night on Broadway as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber returned with his adaptation of the movie “School of Rock”– a hit musical now on many levels. Webber regained the Winter Garden Theater, home to the officious “Cats” for several decades (or so it seemed), and scored big time thanks to a terrific book by Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame) and an epic rockin’ lead performance by newcomer Alex Brightman.
The Winter Garden audience was rockin’ to with Sting in the third row, Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood on the other side in the second row, plus lots of celebrities like Harvey Weinstein and wife Georgina Chapman, Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Sarah Paulson, Joan Collins, and Helen Mirren, married couple actress Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Grantham to you) and her husband, director Simon Curtis, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka.
There were tons of people associated with the music biz too like producer/manager Peter Asher (James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt), John Eastman (Paul McCartney’s life long adviser and brother-in- law), Allen Grubman, and David Geffen.
The whole first row of the Winter Garden was given to the twentysomethings who played the original kids in the 2003 movie “School of Rock” with Jack Black. They are all still quite friendly, and sang along with the songs they knew from the film. This was no doubt a pleasure for Mike White, the actor-writer who wrote the movie and was seated not too far from them.
“School of Rock” works on high energy, and the performances. There are no Andrew Lloyd Webber songs that you’ll be whistling on the way out, like “Memory” or “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” The most memorable song, the title number, was adapted from the movie. But Webber has composed functional ballads and power anthems you might have heard on a rock station in the 1990s. They’re not memorable but they push the story along.
It’s Fellowes’ adaptation of Mike White’s screenplay that is so well constructed that it doesn’t matter what anyone is singing. And then there is the gimmick of all these 11-13 year olds playing their instruments and singing. They really do play, too, although there is an actual adult orchestra hidden in the wings. Still, the kids are impressive, and lively. Co-star Sierra Boggess, an adult herself, is a knockout.
“School of Rock,” like all musicals from now through May, is an interesting position. It can’t win the Tony Award since “Hamilton” will smash everything on June 12th at the Beacon Theater. So all these people can do is kick back and have fun. There’s no pressure. Maybe that’s why it all works. A hit in time for the Christmas rush.
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