When School of Rock the movie came out it was met with thunderous applause. Jack Black at his best in a movie that touched us all (or most of us). A movie set around the concept of what rock and roll is truly about. So when it was announced that Andrew Lloyd Webber was composing the music for a stage adaptation we were all a little worried. Our fears continued as there was no way they were going to be able to get Jack Black to do the role again and no one was going to be able to fill his shoes. There was a lot of talk in the community expecting the show to be a flop, to close quickly, to have patrons shouting out their disappointment. And then the show opened.
When Alex Brightman first appears on stage you have to take a few minutes to realize that he is not Jack Black. Brightman does such a fantastic job of not only stepping into the character but into Black’s iconic interpretation. However that doesn’t mean that he stays there. Brightman has flushed out the character in ways that only come from devoting yourself to something with your entire being. Finding moments with almost every other actor on stage, Brightman brings us on his journey from awkward rocker to relatable dreamer with energy, talent, and truth.
Not only does Brightman subvert our expectations but Webber proves he is more than capable of writing rock. Webber’s score is delightful and powerful with one of the best songs of the season “Stick It To The Man.” For a song that reprises itself over and over we never get tired of listening to the catchy tune or the inspirational interpretation of the classic rock message. However that may be because our hearts melted for the children singing “If Only You Would Listen.” In a song that should have been written years ago, we hear the kids need to be heard; a need that only the power of rock can give them. While that seems clichéd and campy, we never feel that way during or after the show.
Speaking of the children, they really do play their instruments. Although I’m not sure why it is said on repeat before and after the show. These kids are clearly talented but to say over and over that they are really playing almost diminishes the amount of talent and dedication they have. Four of the kids play an instrument throughout the show, the guitar, bass, piano, and drums (Other kids play more classical instruments for a quick scene early on and then never again.) The four of them clearly have put in hours and hours of training into the skill set they must have in order to not only play the songs in the show but to perform them so well.
Now for some of the aspect of the show that are not as strong. Sierra Boggess plays the strict principal Rosalie Mullins who later turns out to be a huge fan of Billy Nix. Boggess has been one of my favorite sopranos in the business for some time and I was saddened to see her in this role. While she sings it very well, the role itself is not suited for her type of humor leaving Rosalie two-dimensional and slightly false. The role itself is not fully flushed out leaving Boggess trying in vain to make the switch seem natural.
Along those lines the characters of Ned Schneebly (Dewey’s roommate and ex bandmate) and Patty Di Marco (Ned’s uptight girlfriend) don’t see enough stage time to flush them out or make them into the lovable goof and antagonist (respectively) that they are intended to be. In fact Patti is so one-dimensional that we know exactly what she is going to say every time she walks out onstage until the end when her character comes back with a complete 180 that makes zero sense.
Jumping backward a little there is a major plot hole in the show. Remember the song “If Only You Would Listen?” The kids are begging to be heard by their parents, teachers, literally anyone. And in comes Dewey to give them rock. Except Dewey doesn’t listen to them either. In fact he straight up ignores several of them and uses them for his own gain. He even says later in the show that he lied to them and some of the kids reprise the song. This makes no sense from a dramaturgical stand point because, again, the main kid to sing it is one that Dewey ignore not once but twice and only paid attention to her once she showed him something she could be useful for.
The kid Zac, who seems to be the main child, has a huge conflict with his father. The father not only dismisses his son constantly but also basically tells Zac that he has to work twice as hard because he is stupid. Not once does Dewey tell Zac he is good for anything except guitar. Not once does Dewey tell any child a positive thing beyond how they can help him with his goal of being a rock star. So why do we believe that he cares when it is nowhere in the script? The only answer is Brightman. He brings such depth to yet another character that is two-dimensional.
Every with all of its dramaturgical problems School of Rock is a joy. And really a must see.