THE BASICS: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s SCHOOL OF ROCK – THE MUSICAL, presented by Shea’s and Albert Nocciolino runs through April 8, Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at both 2pm and 7pm at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main Street (1-800-745-3000). www.sheas.org Runtime: Under 2-1/2 hours with one intermission.
There is a “Pre-Show Family Event” on Saturday, April 7, 2018 from 12 noon to 1:45pm at Shea’s 710 Theatre located at 710 Main Street, Buffalo, a half of block from Shea’s Buffalo, featuring themed activities including an instrument zoo (try out actual instruments), games, trivia, a photo booth, and more with guests from “Music Is Art” (founded by Goo Goo Dolls bassist Robby Takac) and the Community Music School. This event is free with the purchase of a ticket to School of Rock.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Based on the 2003 film starring Jack Black, this is a rock musical by the composer who got his theatrical start with a rock musical – JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR – Andrew Lloyd Webber. With lyrics by Disney’s Glenn Slater and a book by “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes, it’s much more focused on the lives of the school children than the movie. But like the movie it presents the story of Dewey Finn, an overweight, sloppy, somewhat clueless, but incredibly optimistic rocker who has been thrown out of his own hard rock band “No Vacancy.” Crashing at his best friend Ned’s apartment, Dewey is given an ultimatum by Ned’s girlfriend to either pay rent or get out. By chance and guile he lands a job as a substitute teacher at the prestigious “Horace Green” co-ed prep school, but has zero interest in the gifted but troubled students. However, after hearing them play classical music, Dewey forms a rock band of the fifth-graders, in an attempt to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands contest, gain redemption, and ascend to the top of “Mount Rock.”
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION Q&A
Does bringing the movie to the stage work? Yes, because it was in the hands of a very experienced creative team that understands the ebb and flow and pacing of musicals: Webber, Slater, and Fellowes.
How experienced? Andrew Lloyd Webber has a remarkable eclecticism that has, among other awards, won him seven Tonys, a Golden Globe, an Oscar, the Kennedy Center Honor, and a Grammy. His output is quite varied, having composed the music for eighteen (18!) musicals including a few duds but also the 9-lived CATS, as well as EVITA, JOSEPH, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, PHANTOM (which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary) and SUNSET BOULEVARD. Right now he has three shows running simultaneously on Broadway: SCHOOL OF ROCK, CATS, and PHANTOM. By the way, PHANTOM is coming to Shea’s April 25 to May 6, 2018 (16 performances) and his LOVE NEVER DIES, a PHANTOM sequel, will be at Shea’s from June 5 to June 10 (8 performances).
If you want to know more, Webber has also recently written a book titled “Unmasked” which accompanies a soundtrack from his various musicals.
Is making a musical from a movie unusual? It depends, but the relationship between Broadway and Hollywood has never been comfortable, even though the two coasts regularly poach from one another. For a look at Broadway shows going on to the big screen, you might read “When Broadway went to Hollywood” by Ethan Mordden. One of the differences between most movie adaptations of Broadway musicals is that a number of songs are cut out and a lot of dialog is added. When you go the other way, from Hollywood to Broadway, you need to add songs.
Adding songs? A few years before the opening of SCHOOL OF ROCK – THE MUSICAL Andrew Lloyd Webber was speaking to The (London) Telegraph saying:
“You can’t do heavy metal for hours and hours in the theatre – everyone would be screaming. So [there has] to be theatrical songs too. And we’ve obviously got to use the iconic songs from the original show. It would be a shame not to do a Stevie Nicks song.”
How else is the musical different from the movie? Again, Webber in the early planning stages said: “It has to be a bit more rounded. I’d quite like to know more about the children and their parents than I do from the film.” Enter Julian Fellowes with a nice book giving a little depth to the characters and some clever lines.
The truth is that at the moment the public is going for feelgood shows.
“The truth is that at the moment the public is going for feelgood shows,” Webber continued in the Telegraph conversation. “I sometimes wonder whether a musical about the wife of an Argentine dictator, with a song that was six minutes long and accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, would have made number one in the charts now. And I think probably not…Everything, in the end, is about zeitgeist.”
What is the zeitgeist (“spirit of the age”) for American in 2018? Well it’s complicated, but certainly it’s “woke” as in awakened to social problems, reflected in the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements, not to mention various reactions to the 1%-99% disparity of wealth. Now, to be fair, the show does touch on gender inequality, at least as far as paychecks go, and a major theme is overprogrammed children (a theme, by the way, nicely explored by Theatre of Youth earlier this season in THE BOY ON THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING).
But, if you’re really looking for “woke” entertainment, you’ll probably be happier at Subversive Theatre or Road Less Traveled Theater (their missions are in their names), or even Shea’s Smith Theatre next week for LIT401: A School Shooting in One Act (see WHAT’S NEXT below). If on the other hand, being “woke” is exhausting and you’d like a little psychic respite, this musical, with its multiple happy endings for every character on stage, will serve nicely.
Happy endings? Really? Okay, musicals about music and musicians and singers and dancers are a cliché, it’s true, and so are plots about preparing for “the big show or the big showdown” whether it’s singing, dancing, cheerleading or playing basketball, and so are plots where the older generation (bad) can’t understand or appreciate the young generation (good), and so are story lines where characters are revealed to gasp! have another side to themselves. In this case, just about every character on stage is transformed by the power of rock’n’roll. So, yeah, happy endings abound.
When they’re done well, and in this musical everything – music, pit band, costumes, swirling sets is done well, these ‘feel good’ shows work wonders for the spirit.
But, when they’re done well, and in this musical everything – music, pit band, costumes, swirling sets is done well, these “feel good” shows work wonders for the spirit. Some of the singing was a little screechy and if you’re looking for a chorus line of sleek 20-something dancers with six pack abs and legs up to here, well…. this is a musical about kids. Readers of my reviews know that usually, musicals about kids leave me cold. But, I must say, these child actors are fun and not at all “precious.” Great casting. And, as a voiceover by Lord Webber announces at the beginning of the show and the message is repeated by Dewey at the end, the children are really playing the instruments on stage – guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums.
UP NEXT: All three stages run by Shea’s are getting a workout this week, with “A Salute to Leonard Bernstein” presented by Buffalo Opera Unlimited at Shea’s 710 Theatre, one night only, Friday, April 6 at 8:00 p.m. and LIT 401: A School Shooting in One Act at Shea’s Smith Theatre Thursday through Sunday April 12 through April 15.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!