By: Paulanne Simmons
A rebellious musician dedicated to his art. Overprotected and harried children. Egotistical and clueless parents. There’s nothing particularly new in School of Rock, the new Broadway musical based on the 2003 film starring Jack Black as Dewey Finn, a frustrated rock singer and guitarist who masquerades as a substitute teacher in a tony private school.
But there is something particularly charming about this production, directed by Laurence Connor, a man whose way with children surely goes back to his work with Oliver! and The King and I. Part of that charm comes curtesy of the lead, Alex Brightman, who manages to amiably and energetically fill Black’s formidable boots. But perhaps even more, that charm is generated by the musical’s large cast of talented and adorable children.
Principal among those adorable children are Isabella Russo, who is Summer, a level-headed young lady who, as Dewey tells her parents, may one day be president, Brandon Niederauer, who portrays Zach, a young man who plays a mean guitar, Jared Parker, who has the role of Lawrence, the class nerd who becomes a superstar at the keyboard and Bobbi MacKenzie, who is Tomika, a young lady who never speaks but dazzles Dewey (and the audience) with her amazing “Amazing Grace.”
Dewey not only turns his students into band members and his class into practice session, he also inspires them to defy their controlling parents and become the individuals they were meant to be. For the musical, book writer Julian Fellowes appends a romance between Dewey and Rosalie (Sierra Boggess), the uptight school mistress. This adds a few laughs but not much fire to the show.
As for the score, it’s a winning combination of music from the movie and original songs by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Glenn Slater. Although there are times when the songs slip into the generic, “Stick It to the Man” and “If Only You Would Listen” are both examples of numbers that work both musically and lyrically.
School of Rock combines the flimflam heroism of The Music Man (without the all-American naiveté) and the outrageous anarchism of Matilda the Musical. (without the British accents). And it deserves a long, long Broadway run.
School of Rock ****1/2
Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway @ 50th Street
Photos: Matthew Murphy