Review: School of Rock

School_of_Rock Alex_Brightman_and_the_cast_of__by_Timmy_Blupe

The tradition of breaking with tradition – that’s what is at the heart of the light-hearted and playful romp School of Rock. I like this better than anything composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has written since he split with lyricist Tim Rice in the late 1970s, partly because Webber is clearly having a blast returning to his rock roots, and partly because it celebrates rock’s spirit of adolescent rebellion and individualism.

I’m told that the Julian Fellowes book for School of Rock follows the film very closely (haven’t seen the film). It focuses on Dewey Finn, a rock and roll true believer, who fakes his way into a job as a substitute teacher to pay the rent. The only subject he knows well enough to teach is rock itself, especially its defiant spirit of “sticking it to the man.” Which (of course) turns out to be exactly what his young charges needed most.

Most of Webber’s songs are loving and even witty pastiches of various rock styles since the 1960s, leaning towards poppy glam metal. They’re definitely fun, if not as instantly memorable as, say, most of Jesus Christ Superstar. The sound design is a problem; Glenn Slater’s lyrics aren’t always easy to make out in the murky mix. This is less of a problem than one might think: the songs’ shouted and repeated song titles tell you 90% of what you need to know. But still….

As Dewey, Alex Brightman movingly undergoes a transformation from boorishly self-centered would-be rock god to a still-rebellious but more thoughtful “think of the kids” leader. He knows who the real stars of this show are – the kids. They are all real instrumental and/or vocal virtuosos, especially Brandon Niederauer, a genuine guitar prodigy. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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