The years in between make a difference when it comes to experiencing a story. In 2003, I watched goofy Jack Black stumble and charm and ultimately inspire a classroom of talented musicians in School of Rock. I was 33 at the time, unmarried, not responsible for children; I only had to enjoy the film, which combines comedy, rock and roll, and talented kids as they are led by Black toward a battle of bands. You know how you see every movie, every book, every commercial differently once you have kids? That’s true with adaptations, too.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock the Musical, currently at the Winter Garden Theatre, is the fun, family-friendly musical experience of the same story. It delivers the same wholesome yet pessimistic vision that childhood affords of adults and their relentless adulting: they’re no fun, man.
Dewey Finn, the imposter substitute teacher at the exclusive Horace Green school, is a child himself, unable to move on or give up on his failed rock and roll career; yet he’s also a depressed and discouraged adult, relatable to an audience grown up since first meeting the character. He is a disappointment to everyone, a leach on his roommate Ned and Ned’s overbearing girlfriend, until he finds his calling: his selfish ends are means for acceptance and growth for this group of kids. As a parent always balancing expectations with my kids’ personalities and needs, the show’s conflicts are obvious and make it difficult to take sides. Young folks see the adults other than Dewey as hilarious in their stick in the mud, over the top stuffiness; I was thinking how hard it is to find good roommates.
The uniformed, well-behaved fifth graders are pleasers. The cast of under 13 year olds is superb; the audience not only marvels at the kids playing their own instruments, but also sympathizes with their adolescent disharmony. They are shy or over-achieving; they are lonely or over-adored; they are complicated, like our own children, pleading for their parents’ attention and understanding in the moving “If Only You Would Listen.” And the parents, like many of us, are distracted, dismissive or unaware of the scope of their children’s needs, yet singly devoted to giving their children every advantage. They aren’t enemies of the dream; they are guardians of dreamers. They want what’s best for you, kids! The principal is a bummer, but hey, those parents expect her to protect and educate their kids; and the kids were taken out of school by a fraud in a school bus. Just sayin’. She wonders about letting go of music and youth in “Where Did the Rock Go?” Let me know, sister, if you figure out how to please everyone.
The energy of the show is contagious. The music is loud and catchy and flawless in the hands of these phenomenal musicians. The band singing “School of Rock” toward the end will make you want to cheer. (Note: My son, who has special needs, enjoyed the show much more filtered through noise reducing headphones.) These kids inspire awe and, ironically, a reevaluation of whether I’m pushing my children hard enough to develop their own talents. My kids looked at me during the talk back with the cast as if I’ve been standing in their way.
School of Rock the Musical is a great night out for the whole family. Take your kids and be prepared to enjoy some great talent and music, and to likely question some parenting decisions.
Show is 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission. Recommended for ages 8 and up; children under 4 years old are not permitted in the theatre. More information and tickets are available at the show’s website.
Original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Julian Fellowes and direction by Laurence Connor. School of Rock – The Musical was nominated for four 2016 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score (Lloyd Webber and Slater), Best Book (Fellowes), and Best Leading Actor in a Musical (Alex Brightman).
Disclosure: My son and I were given tickets in exchange for a performance review. Opinions are always my own.