This past weekend I had the privilege of seeing “School of Rock,” the musical on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre. I want to preface this review with the fact that I have never seen the movie starring Jack Black, allowing me to evaluate the show purely on itself rather than in comparison to the 2003 film.
Act 1, Scene 1 opens with the performance of “I’m Too Hot for You,” by No Vacancy and our protagonist Dewey played by Eric Peterson. After showboating on the guitar, Dewey is kicked out of No Vacancy and we next see him in his best friend Ned’s, played by Spencer Moses, apartment where he sings “When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock.”
Right off the bat, the show and the music were fun and sparked an innate desire in me to headbang and play the air guitar … thank God I was in the back row.
Next, we meet the students and staff of Horace Green. The stage is set perfectly for the stuffy, strict institution that is about to be flipped on its back by Dewey when he impersonates Ned to obtain a teaching position that will allow him to pay rent.
In Scene 6, Dewey gets the brilliant idea to mold his class into a band in order to compete in Battle of the Bands and get himself back into the rock world. “You’re in the Band” was another fun number and it allowed the audience to see the incredible musical talent the children in the cast would astound us with for the remainder of the show.
This musical is not all fun and games, however, in Scene 7 we see how the children act at home with their families. The kids are trophy children with their parents’ sole focus being to mold them into better versions of themselves and it was difficult not to get a little emotional when they sang “If Only You Would Listen.”
The show quickly picks back up with band practices in the classroom and the first performance of the band’s first song “In the End of Time” and my personal favorite number of the show, “Stick it to the Man.” Finally, the School of Rock gets to audition for the Battle of the Bands at the end of Act 1, but only after they are forced to lie to the judge about their rare medical condition, “stickittothemanis.”
After the audition, the band is official and we hear the reprise of “Stick it to the Man” as the curtain drops for intermission.
When the cast returns to the stage, we have to sit through a few sort of housekeeping scenes showing the dynamics between Dewey and the rest of the faculty at Horace Green, particularly Rosalie, played by Jenn Gambatese.
In the next scene, one of the students Tomika, played by Bobbi Mackenzie, finally comes out of her shell and announces that she would like to be the lead singer. After Dewey blows her off and goes back to instructing the rest of the students, Tomika blows the character and the audience away with a performance of “Amazing Grace” that gave me goose bumps.
After a near miss with Rosalie when she storms into the classroom unannounced, Dewey convinces her to get a drink with him at a dive bar. Everything about Scene 4 just screams “Broadway,” Rosalie’s number “Where Did the Rock Go?” is so corny that it was impossible to take seriously, but at least we get to see this character open up after being so rigid for the entire show thus far.
In Act 2, Scene 6, Dewey’s illusion is finally shattered in the middle of Parents Night when Ned’s girlfriend Patty (Becky Gulsvig) rushes in and exposes him with Ned at her heels. Dewey’s first instinct is to run back to the apartment and hide, but the children storm his bedroom and convince him to come to Battle of the Bands with the reprise of “If Only You Would Listen.”
After Dewey and the students perform “School of Rock” they wait anxiously backstage, greeted by their now proud and supportive parents, to hear whether or not they won the competition and the prize money. Unsurprisingly, they did not see the fruits of their labor, but were called back onstage for another performance of “Stick It to the Man.”
When it comes to Broadway performances, I’m definitely loyal to classics like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Chicago,” but the humor and music in “School of Rock” was refreshing and the talent in such young actors and actresses and musicians was overwhelming.