By: Sandi Durell
No more stodgy semi-classical operettas for Andrew Lloyd Webber! It’s all about the kids and louder than loud music as the least possible role model Dewey Finn – a kook of loveable messy mashup Alex Brightman – concocts a way to earn some much needed bucks to pay the back rent to his now nerdy friend Ned Schneebly (Spencer Moses) and tough girlfriend Patty (Mamie Paris) by assuming Ned’s identity to teach fourth graders at a posh private school.
Based on Richard Linklater’s 2003 comedy movie starring Jack Black, Sir Andrew (composer/producer) and his counterparts Julian Fellowes (yes, of Downton Abbey fame), book writer, along with lyricist Glenn Slater have bellied up to the bar of empowering prim and proper youth aged 9 to 13 years, students at the haughty Horace Green school, who defiantly fall into Dewey’s world of blazing rock and roll. It’s a lesson not only in parent-child relationships, but how love blooms in the most unique ways.
Kicked out of his own band – No Vacancy, in which his buddy Ned was a former member, the hi-energetic and unrelenting Dewey, armed with guitar and a penchant for humor-laden lingo, unleashes the rocker in these uptight kids with a series of scene stealing riffs while under the watchful eye of uptight principal Ms. Mullins (the fabulous voiced Sierra Boggess), who secretly adores Stevie Nicks – “It’s Too Hot For You,” “Edge of Seventeen” – and putting her own mark on “Where Did the Rock Go?”
It’s all about the fabulous talented kids who are actually playing their own instruments as they audition and are rewarded by Dewey in the fun-filled “You’re In the Band” and assigned roles. These uber-talented kids are astounding: Lead guitarist Zack (Brandon Niederauer), super-voiced Tomika (Bobbie Mackenzie), stone-faced Katie on bass (Evie Dolan), hot drummer Freddy (Dante Melucci), and swift fingers Lawrence (Jared Parker) on keyboard, with backup vocalists Carly Gendell and Taylor Caldwell. Smart talking bossy drill captain Summer (Isabella Russo), who doesn’t play an instrument, takes over as Stage Manager. Even Billy (Luca Padovan) gets a nod as a stylist. Yup, they’re all in the band, including Jersey Sullivan, Ethan Khusidman.
Dewey whips the little nerds into rockers in a flash as they take on their well earned new roles making excuses to parents who don’t understand them – “If Only You Would Listen” – moving forward to the Battle of the Bands where they “Stick It to the Man.”
The teachers and parents include Emily Cramer, Natalie Charle Ellis, Alan H. Green, Michael Hartney, John Hemphill, Merritt David Janes, Jaygee Macapugay, Cassie Okenka, Tally Sessions, Jonathan Wagner, Jeremy Woodard.
Anna Louizos’ fine eye designs the detailed sets and costumes; Natasha Katz’ first rate lighting adds the rock stadium quality, while choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter moves them all around like supple chess pieces. Director Laurence Connor stirs ‘em up and voila. . . you’ve got a hot “School of Rock” blend of audience pleasers with the addition of a creative curtain call. You may not be able to make out all the lyrics, and may find some of the tunes repetitive but that’s okay, it’s all about the hot, high energy that emanates from the stage that will probably earn Alex Brightman a nice Tony nom and more.
Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway, 212 239-6200 , 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission.
Photos: Matthew Murphy