SCHOOL OF ROCK – The Musical on Broadway
Winter Garden Theatre – NYC
When I first heard there was going to be a Broadway musical adaptation of the Paramount hit comedy film “School of Rock,” my initial thought was “Really?”
When I heard Andrew Lloyd Weber was writing the music for the show my next thought was “Really?”
When I heard one of my favorite young guitar playing musicians, Brandon Niederaur, would be starring in the play as one of the student musicians I again thought “Really?
… followed by a, “Ya know, This could be pretty cool.”
I had become a fan of TAZ’s after seeing him several times sitting in with bands like The Revivalists, Lettuce, The Main Squeeze, and Gary Clark Jr. I was truly intrigued watching the young man evolve to become the amazing guitarist he is today. When I met him and saw him command the stage with his own band, Lions On The Moon, at Mountain Jam this summer it was obvious that there was no limit to what he’ll be able to accomplish as a musician and performer. Brandon even acknowledges that he was inspired to start playing guitar after watching the movie “School of Rock.” It was only natural that he have a big part in the play. As a Speech and Theatre major in college who had performed on stage in front of a live audience before, I was both curious and thrilled. Sounds like fun! Tickets bought!
The story “School of Rock” is about an aspiring guitar player named Dewey Finn whose bandmates decide to take a creative and style change and kick Finn out of the band he started. He continues to struggle while freeloading in the house of an old friend, Ned Schneebly and his controlling wife Patty. One afternoon Dewey intercepts a phone call from the principal of Horace Green Prep School that was intended for his friend Ned. Dewey, pretending to be his friend, accepts the offer to teach at the gifted “snobatorium.” With no skills or desires to teach what so ever, Finn discovers that the students in his class are gifted classical musicians. He then decides to abandon all curricular activities and groom his classful of musical prodigies to write and perform rock music and win the “Battle of the Bands” in hopes to prove to his former band that they made the wrong decision when they dismissed him.
Lights dimmed and the matinee show began promptly at 2pm. We are immediately reminded by an Andrew Lloyd Weber recording that all students and musicians would be performing LIVE. Within minutes we are captivated by actor Alex Brightman who plays pseudo-teacher Dewey Finn. Brightman’s portrayal of the quick witted and slick tongued Finn is absolutely brilliant. He is both hilarious and extremely endearing that you can’t help but root for his success. His chemistry with the young actors who play his students is exhilarating and natural. You think he’s the biggest kid in the class. His fellow actors who play his friend Ned (Spencer Moses) and controlling wife Patty (Mamie Parris) do an exceptional job bringing loveable charm to characters we’re not supposed to like. The beautiful Sierra Boggess does a remarkable job playing the prim and proper principal of Horace Green Prep waiting to cut loose. When she was given the spotlight and took center stage during the song “Where Did The Rock Go” (which she sang alone and beautifully) it became one of the many highlights of the show. The ensemble cast that played all the parents and fellow teachers did an exceptional and believable job in support.
Where do I begin about the young members of this incredible cast? They were the shining and awe inspiring titans of the stage. They were ALL so talented and professional. Each of them made feel like hopping in a time machine and becoming a member of the band “School of Rock.” Bobbie Mackenzie who played the shy and timid Tamika blew everyone away with her strong voice several times throughout the performance. Isabella Russo does a remarkable job playing the know-it-all student manager of the band, Summer. Her chemistry with Alex Brighton was infatuating. They were both hysterical feeding off each other. The talented actor/musicians, bass player Evie Dolan (Katie), Keyboardist Jared Parker (Lawrence), and drummer Dante Melucci (Freddy) do a phenomenal job and had several “WOW” moments bringing the music to the forefront. Oh, my guitar hero friend Brandon Niederauer (Zack) totally “nailed it” every time he was given the spotlight and did an awesome job his first time acting live on stage. I see great things in the future for ‘TAZ’ whether it’s the footlights of the theatre or the spotlights of a concert hall. Odds are he’ll be a star on either stage.
My original expectations when I heard this story was going to be converted to a musical were thinking that the songs telling the story might be a bit corny and campy, but that wasn’t so. All the music and all the songs were brilliantly composed and performed along with the playful choreography. I was immensely impressed and should’ve expected nothing less from an Andrew Lloyd Weber play.
This review would be considered incomplete if I forgot to mention the outstanding job director Laurence Connor and his production staff had done. The flow of the story and the set transitions were smooth throughout. There was never a dull moment during the 3 hour show and the audience was always focused on the stage with so much going on. With so many kids in the cast Mr. Laurence and his assistants must have felt like they were herding kittens at times, but you would never know it by the highly professional level of performance on the stage.
After the show we got the opportunity to meet the cast and tell them what a fantastic job they had just done. Each of the student members of the cast was well equipped with a Sharpie, signed autographs for the fans waiting, and thanked everyone for coming. When I told Bobbie Mackenzie how awesome she was and how much I liked the show she asked me which song was my favorite. Thinking fast I said “Any song you sang.” Good answer. She signed my Playbill and said, “Thank you so much, I’m glad you had a good time” I had a blast!
I highly recommend any fan of FUN make it to Broadway, put your hand on your heart, and pledge allegiance to the “School of Rock”!!