22 September 2016

'School of Rock – The Musical'

[As has occasionally happened on ROT, the coverage of the press response has swelled my report on School of Rock – The Musical beyond my customary limit.  (As you’ll see, the review round-up accounts for more than half the post’s length.)  I’ll make the same explanation I’ve made before for this circumstance: rather than stinting on the review quotations or reducing the selection of press outlets I’ve consulted, I’m letting the report go long.  The discussion and my assessment of the performance of the movical, however, is no longer than more typical posts of this kind.  I hope you’ll at last sample the press response I summarize, but that decision’s up to the reader.  (For discussions of movicals in general, see my posts “Movicals,” 20 September 2013, and “More on Movicals,” 21 February 2014.)]

What’s the matter with kids today? That’s the musical question asked 56 years ago when rock ’n’ roll was still a baby—even younger than the fifth-graders in School of Rock – The Musical.  Back then, the answer, as far as the adults of Sweet Apple, Ohio, were concerned at least, was pretty much everything: their music, their clothes, their language, their dances.  School of Rock’s answer?  Not a thing—as long as they can be in a rock band!

School of Rock is a show I never thought I’d go see, to be honest.  I watched the 2003 Paramount Pictures movie directed by Richard Linklater and starring Jack Black, and it was cute but not really my cuppa.  (I’m not a big fan of Jack Black.  I find him more irritating than funny.)  I figured it was aimed at ’tweens about the age of the kids in the story.  Besides, way back in 1981, when I saw Evita, I decided that I wasn’t going to spend money to see any more Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals.  But my cousin and her husband called me and said they’d be coming up from Maryland for a birthday party and they’d like me to join them for a show—and believe it or not, the only one, play or musical, neither of us had seen or were already planning to see that was even remotely acceptable was . . . that’s right: School of Rock.  It had gotten pretty decent reviews, as far as I’d read, and I really didn’t want to say no to my cousins again, having turned them down in January when they went to Something Rotten! (which I saw later and absolutely loved; see my report posted on ROT on 11 May), so I said yes.  And off the three of us baby-boomers went to catch the one o’clock matinee at the Winter Garden Theatre on Sunday, 21 August.

With a book by Julian Fellowes (Broadway’s Mary Poppins, PBS’s Downton Abbey), music by Andrew Lloyd Webber (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, Starlight Express . . . oh, hell, and a passel more everyone already knows!), and lyrics by Glenn Slater (The Little Mermaid, Sister Act, Leap of Faith), School of Rock – The Musical, based on Mike White’s screenplay, began previews on Broadway on 9 November 2015 and opened on 6 December.  (After the mat on the 21st, School of Rock  had played 31 previews and 295 regular performances.)  The production, directed by Laurence Connor (the current Broadway revival of Les Miz) and choreographed by JoAnn M. Hunter, received nominations for four Tonys (Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role) and five Drama Desk Awards (Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Orchestrations, Outstanding Lyrics, Outstanding Sound Design, Outstanding Music) but won none.  It was also nominated unsuccessfully for Outer Critics Circle, Broadway.com Audience, and Drama League Awards.  

The Broadway production is the show’s world première, but Lloyd Webber (who’s also a producer of the show) staged a concert version at the Gramercy Theatre (on 23rd Street near Gramercy Park) in Manhattan in June 2015.  Lloyd Webber has announced that School of Rock will make its London début at the New London Theatre this fall with previews starting on 24 October and an opening on 14 November.  (A U.S. national tour will go out in 2017.)  The original cast recording of School of Rock – The Musical was released by Warner Bros. Records on 4 December 2015.  Also before the play’s opening, Lloyd Webber and R&H Theatricals, a division of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, announced in October 2015 that the amateur rights for the musical would be available immediately for productions starting rehearsals after opening night; there have already been school productions of School of Rock staged around the country.  (The movie also spun off a half-hour cable series on Nickelodeon which débuted last March and started its second season earlier this month.)

The story of School of Rock – The Musical (which runs two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission) follows the film’s plot pretty closely.  Aside from the exchange of original songs for covers, the stage musical changes a few characters’ names, mostly among the kid musicians.  Dewey Finn, played by Black in the movie and Will Blum (the alternate for Alex Brightman) at the matinee performance I saw, is still the central figure in the plot.  He’s still a slacker rock guitarist; he’s still booted out of the band he helped start; and he still impersonates a substitute teacher at the prestigious Horace Green prep school in his anonymous city.  (One other small change: in the movie, the class Dewey turns into a rock band is fourth grade; in the play, the kids are fifth-graders.  That only means the 11- to 13-year-old actors playing the students are supposed to be 10 instead of 9.)

Dewey Finn (Blum) is a wannabe rock guitarist who’s kicked out of his own band, No Vacancy (think Metallica rip-off), for constantly up-staging the lead singer, Theo (John Arthur Greene), with his on-stage antics (“I’m Too Hot for You”).  The band’s moving up, the other musicians think, and Dewey no longer fits in; for one thing, they’re all good-looking (they say) and Dewey’s . . . well, a zhlub.  Then he’s also fired from his day job at a record store (“When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock”).  Constantly broke, Dewey shares an apartment with his friend and former Maggotdeath bandmate, Ned Schneebly (Spencer Moses), who’s now a substitute teacher with a domineering girlfriend, Patty Di Marco (Mamie Parris).  Dewey’s months behind in his share of the rent, and Patty demands that Ned kick him out.  Patty goes off to work and Ned’s out, too, when Dewey answers a phone call for Ned.  It’s the exclusive Horace Green school in need of a substitute teacher for the rest of the term.  Needing money and a job, Dewey pretends to be Ned and accepts a job as a fifth-grade teacher at the snobbish private school.  

Of course, Dewey arrives late (and hung-over) and finds Principal Rosalie Mullins (Jenn Gambatese) anxiously waiting for him (“Here at Horace Green”).  Uptight Ms. Mullins hardly notices Dewey’s unpreparedness, slovenly attire, or physical state as she ushers him into his classroom.  He promptly declares permanent recess, much to the disbelief and consternation of the over-achieving pupils, as he stretches out on the desk for a bit of recovery time.  When he happens on the students’ music class and recognizes their talent, he forms a plan to realize his dreams of rock stardom.  The sub forms a rock band with his 10-year-olds in an effort to win the prize money (and spotlight) offered by the Battle of the Bands competition—out of which he was cheated when his old combo dumped him.  

Obviously, Dewey has to do this in secret because Ms. Mullins and the children’s parents, who all have expectations for and demands on their offspring, would clearly disapprove and shut him down.  Needless to say, though, the students, after some hesitation, take to the idea wholeheartedly—though Dewey has to convince one or two that forming a rock band is an educational benefit, or even a good idea.  He hands out band assignments to musicians (Zack on electric guitar – Brandon Niederauer, Katie on bass – Evie Dolan, Lawrence on keyboard – Diego Lucano, and Freddy on drums – Raghav Mehrotra), singers (Shonelle – Gianna Harris, Marcy – Carly Gendell), back-up dancers/roadies (Madison – Ava Della Pietra, Sophie – Gabby Gutierrez), a manager (bossy, gold star-craving Summer – Isabella Russo), a lighting techie (Mason – Gavin Kim). a stylist (the Streisand-adoring, Vogue-reading Billy – Luca Padovan), and a security chief (James – Jersey Sullivan) who’s job it is to warn the class when Ms. Mullins or one of the teachers heads their way.  (In an amusing—and serendipitous—bit, Summer, who’s a terrible singer, auditions as a back-up vocalist by croaking her way through Lloyd Webber’s “Memory” from Cats, which originally ran for 18 years at the Winter Garden and is now in revival at the Neil Simon.  The song was used in the same moment in the movie, but takes on special significance in the adaptation.)

When Tomika (Bobbi MacKenzie), the shy new girl who’d been silent and isolated till now, reveals that she’s a talented singer (with a spectacular rendition of “Amazing Grace” worthy of Vy Higginsen’s Gospel for Teens Choir), she, too, joins the combo; “You’re in the Band” iterates the class’s—and the play’s—point and becomes a catch phrase for acceptance and belonging.  (As in the movie, the young band members really play their instruments, sing, and dance as well as act—as a pre-curtain announcement recorded by none other than Lloyd Webber himself assures us.  There’s also a pit orchestra of eight that supplements the on-stage combo for the non-band numbers.)  Dewey and his anti-establishment anarchism (“Stick It to the Man” is a signature song for Dewey and the new band) soon have a noticeable effect on the fifth-graders’ self-assurance.  (Many reviewers noted the irony of this theme in a play written and composed by two millionaire life peers—Lord Lloyd-Webber of Sydmonton and Lord Fellowes of West Stafford are both barons—who sit in the House of Lords as Tories, the very embodiments of “The Man”!)  The Horace Green faculty is jealous of Dewey’s unconventional success (“Faculty Quadrille”).

At home after school, each of the young band members shows us the difficulties each has relating to his or her parents, none of whom really listens to their children (“If Only You Would Listen”).  (This is the one area of the plot that’s been expanded from the movie: we learn more of the pupils’ family lives.)  In order to secure permission to take the students on a “field trip,” Dewey, having learned that Ms. Mullins was once a Stevie Nicks fan, asks her for a drink at a road house where she reveals what’s under her tight-ass exterior (“Where Did the Rock Go?”).  Back at Dewey’s apartment, Ned and Patty have opened the mail and found a check from Horace Green made out to Ned.  After Patty leaves, Dewey comes clean but makes Ned promise not to tell his girlfriend. 

At school the next day, Zack plays the class a song he’s written (“School of Rock”) and Dewey is so impressed with Zack’s talent, he asks Zack to teach it to the band.  There’s a near-crisis on Parents’ Night when the pupils’ parents discover what the kids have been spending their time on, but Dewey charms them—with a lie, to be sure, but they buy it (“Math Is a Wonderful Thing”).  But just as Dewey navigates this predicament, Ned and Patty burst in and, Patty having gotten the truth out of pussy-whipped Ned, expose Dewey.  In the ensuing chaos, the students and Dewey escape Horace Green, but Dewey’s so dismayed he retreats to his darkened room until the students explain how much he’s meant to them (reprise of “If Only You Would Listen”).  In the end, of course, the School of Rock, the name the fifth-graders chose for their group, manages to make it to the theater. 

In a slight twist, they don’t actually win the competition—No Vacancy, Dewey’s old band, does—but School of Rock does win the hearts of the spectators—including the previously skeptical parents—who demand an encore from the mini-rockers (significantly, a reprise of “Stick It to the Man”).  Dewey explains to the kids that winning isn’t the important thing because together they accomplished something more significant.  They beat “The Man”—the one who makes and enforces all the rules.

Back at Horace Green, following the Battle of the Bands (which is really the dramatic conclusion of the play), Ms. Mullins, who’s the children’s actual music teacher, combines some heavy rock licks with her classical singing (“Queen of the Night” from Mozart’s Magic Flute), signaling that things are in for a change at the school—all due to the School of Rock and Dewey’s influence.

School of Rock is fun—the little kid musicians are fantastic!—but I have some significant quibbles.  One is with the sound system, which muddled the singing so badly neither my cousin nor I could decipher Slater’s lyrics.  Even the non-rock numbers—more-or-less regular theater songs—were blurred.  I’ll get to the other issues in a bit, when I cover the show in more detail, but the music is significant because one of the major differences between Linklater and White’s movie and the Fellowes-Lloyd Webber-Slater stage musical is in the score.  Where the movie used mostly covers of rock songs, the play has original songs whose lyrics impact the plot and characters.  (Four songs are reprised from the film: “Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks; “School of Rock,” aka “Teacher’s Pet,” by Mike White and Sammy James, Jr.; “In the End of Time” by Jack Black and Warren Fitzgerald; and “Math Is a Wonderful Thing” by Black and White.  James is a member of Mooney Suzuki, a  garage rock band featured in the film; Fitzgerald is a punk guitarist.)

In case no one else spots it, if Harold Hill played an instrument instead of just selling them, and if he were a would-be musician instead of a huckster salesman, School of Rock would be The Music Man—as long as the music’s rock and not Sousa marches.  (Principal Mullins would be Marian the Librarian and Lawrence, the unconfident keyboardist, would be young Winthrop with the lisp.)  I don’t know if screenwriter White, filmmaker Linklater, or stage adapter Lloyd Webber considered this or if its just a universal tale, but the parallels are pretty hard to overlook.  And that’s where my second quibble comes in.  The apparent point of the show seems to be that if you let your kids be rock musicians, they’ll be great, even of they never learn anything else in school.  Of course, that’s bogus—but if you take the play seriously, that’s what it says.  (Dewey delivers a very heartfelt speech to the parents making that point, and it’s not treated as a joke.  In fact, the play turns on this scene.  You have to believe that the whole play takes place in an alternate universe to overlook that and just see it as a charming fantasy.)
Oh, well, as some great philosopher once said: We don’t need no education!  (He also said: Teachers leave them kids alone, another aspect of the play’s philosophy.)

There are other essential problems here as well.  While Blum is a worthy stand-in for Brightman, his Dewey isn’t really loveable the way the character should be to make the play soar.  In fact, he’s pitiful—and that’s the way the character’s written and directed, not just the way Blum comes off.  Now, as I said, I’m not a fan of Black’s, so the movie didn’t work for me in that way, either, but I’m enough of a dramaturg to be able to analyze the performance text to see that that’s what’s supposed to—or what needs to—occur for this story to take off.  The result of the lack of this quality in the anarchic, slovenly, loud-mouthed Dewey is that his message begins to seem potentially dangerous.  He comes close to the Pied Piper luring Hamelin’s children into the cave.  (Indeed, David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter dubbed him “the renegade pied piper of bad-assery.”)  He’s teaching the kids to be sneaky, dishonest, disrespectful, and defiant (for example, one lyric from “Time to Play,” a song Summer and the fifth-graders sing, is “Look rebellious, act more crude / Bring your best bad attitude”), which is only good if the authority figures like Ms. Mullins and the parents are actually venal (think Nazi prison guards and authoritarian dictators).  But they’re not.  Horace Green may be snobbish and hidebound, but it’s not Animal Farm (it’s also not Matilda or Annie).  The parents don’t listen, but the family lives aren’t The Great Santini or Mommie Dearest.  What’s Dewey up to?  Starting a cult? 

(By the way, the parents are another small thing that bothers me.  In an entire fifth-grade class, every single parent suffers from the same shortsightedness and inattentiveness to his or her child?  Not one ’rent pays attention?  And while I’m at it, this is a whole class of musical prodigies?  Really?  What are the chances of that?  I guess we are in that alternate universe.)

And if we presume that somehow Dewey is redeemed in the end by his encounter with the kids or maybe the reborn Ms. Mullins, that doesn’t happen, either.  (Actually, he goes into this gig for his own selfish purposes.  Like Professor Hill, Dewey only pretends to care about the children—until he sort of comes around near the end.)  When Dewey’s exposed for a fraud and an imposter, he escapes punishment because Mullins tells a lie to cover for him.  (And Patty—who, granted, is a harridan—is the one who’s threatened with legal consequences.  Even though she’s actually right about Dewey, she’s made to be the heavy of School of Rock )  Why does he deserve this outcome?  Because the band kids capture everyone’s heart—not by saving a baby from drowning, the theater from burning down, or the school from closing, but by being good at playing rock music.  Wait, let me amend that: by being 10-year-olds who are good at playing rock music.  In School’s Brigadoon universe, this is apparently the highest of human aspirations.

(I think you’re getting an idea why I didn’t figure I’d buy a ticket for School of Rock.  I have the wrong temperament for it.)

Let me repeat, however, what I said at the start of my assessment: School of Rock is fun.  Despite what may seem harsh criticism, I did enjoy the performance overall.  It’ll never go down on my list of best-ever theater experiences, but it was far from one the worst.  Blum’s performance was fine, but what really puts School of Rock – The Musical over the top as a piece of musical theater are the 13 band members.  No matter how well Dewey’s performed, no matter how good Fellowes book is, and even no matter how tuneful Lloyd Webber and Slater’s score is, it’s the performances, both the acting and the playing, provided by the pre-teen members of the cast that sets this movical above the run-of-the-mill.  (I haven’t seen Matilda, but I’ve heard those youngsters are even more astounding—but I can’t make a comparison.) 

The members of Dewey’s fifth-grade School of Rock are a mixed group now, some from the opening cast and some replacements; at the mat I saw, there were even a couple of understudy/standbys on stage.  Nonetheless, they're by far the best things in the whole show, both as characters (Isabella Russo’s Summer is deliciously bossy,  Diego Lucano is touchingly insecure as Lawrence, and despite the stereotypicality of the character as written, Billy is compellingly determined in Luca Padovan’s hands) and rockers.  (I’d like to think that in the real world, in an ironic reversal, School of Rock would have beaten No Vacancy in the Battle of the Bands.  Lloyd Webber’s music and Slater’s words are pretty derivative—it’s one of the problems that turned me off Lloyd Webber years ago—but “School of Rock” and “Stick It to the Man” are both more interesting pieces of music than “I’m Too Hot for You” and the kids’ musical staging was more fun than No Vacancy’s been-there-done-that posing!  I’m just sayin’.)

The acting of the adults is a different matter.  With children, I think, it doesn’t matter if the roles are written as clichés and stereotypes because I don’t think that registers with really young actors.  They just commit to what the playwright and director give them and go for it.  As Matthew Murray of the website Talkin’ Broadway explained it, they do “exactly what all great musical theatre actors do: transcending the falseness of their surroundings to create a new and better reality through nothing more than their impeccably honed and applied talents.”  It’s part of the childlike quality actors try to retain—believing fully in what they’re doing in the moment.  It’s acting as playacting, and the closer the actor is to childhood, the stronger that impulse is.  But adult pros lose more and more of that the more experienced they get and they have to work at getting it back.  They’ve been around long enough to recognize stereotypes and stock characters and it’s harder for them to play them truthfully without signaling what they feel.  In School of Rock, the adult characters are in such a category and for the most part, the actors don’t or can’t disguise that or play though it.  The parents and teachers (played by the same corps with doubling: Steven Booth, Natalie Charle Ellis, Josh Tower, Michael Hartney, John Hemphill, Merritt David Janes, Jaygee Macapugay, et al.) certainly don’t add anything to their characterizations beyond the caricatures Fellowes wrote for them.  They follow their graphs faithfully, but never rise above cartoons—sort of like the grown-ups in a Peanuts animation. 

I’ve had my say about Blum’s Dewey (and, from the opening-night reviews I read, the same holds true for Alex Brightman, so it’s apparently not entirely the actor’s responsibility): he doesn’t turn Dewey from an unlikeable slob into a charming and child-like rebel.  But Jenn Gambatese manages to make the transition with Rosalie Mullins.  In the opening scenes, she’s the classic tight-ass, even costumed with glasses and a hair-bun.  In the bar scene with Dewey, however, when she almost literally lets her hair down (now, that would be a cliché) and lets her inner Stevie Nicks loose, we get a peek at a Roz that’s genuine and personable.  Her little speech about how she hates the social and academic politics of Horace Green that’s the foundation of her job may be a little too on-the-nose dramatically, but it apparently gives Gambatese enough fuel to take her into a more human characterization and it’s even possible to see her fall a little under Dewey’s spell at that moment.  (It’s a tad incredible, but that’s because Blum doesn’t make the concomitant shift in Dewey that makes him loveable—but that’s hardly Gambatese’s fault.)  When it comes time for Ms. Mullins to release the fifth-graders for their “field trip” and then, more momentously, for her to lie to save Dewey, it’s almost justified by her left dogleg after her Fleetwood Mac turn. 

Director Connor seems to have worked better (or perhaps just more) with the children than with the adults, and he achieves more with them as a result.  Most of School of Rock is staged perfunctorily, but the young wannabe rockers get the best moves.  Hunter’s dances, too, are less than sparkling except for the children, though their numbers tend to be repetitive (and even perhaps derivative) in their pogo-stick jumping movements that look a lot like the kids in Matilda in that show’s commercials.  Anna Louizos’s sets and costumes are fine (her get-ups for Dewey’s grunge-wear couldn’t be . . . well, grungier), with mostly minimal scenery to allow room for movement (except Dewey’s classroom where shifting desks and furniture around to disguise what he’s up to is part of the play’s performance text).  The three rows of sliding panels that make up the detailed back walls of various rooms work well here, and re-jiggering the pupils’ school uniforms for their band costumes (and giving Dewey an adult version for the Battle of the Bands bit) is, if not inspired, then just this side of kinky.  (Blum, in his knee socks and high-tops, looks like an off-kilter scout leader in his maroon plaid shorts and Horace Green blazer.  There should be a prize for the most disturbing costume at the contest.  I wonder what stylist Billy was thinking . . . .)

Natasha Katz’s lighting is well-conceived, from the under-lit atmosphere of Dewey’s bedroom, where the curtains are probably never opened, to the institutional blandness of the prep school hallways, to the rock-concert LED glare of the Battle of the Bands (which caught me right in the eye—but never mind).  The musical direction of Darren Ledbetter works perfectly well for Lloyd Webber’s orchestrations, especially in the faux-rock numbers, but I’ve already said my piece about the sound design of Mick Potter (which is why I have nothing to say about Slater’s lyrics).  Since I feel the musical is a showcase for the ’tween band, all the production elements are really just eyewash for those moments anyway, so as long as they don’t get in the way, they’re perfect for this production.

The press coverage of School of Rock – The Musical was immense.  Show-Score tallied 60 reviews, including out-of-town papers (Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune) and even abroad (London’s Telegraph), giving the movical an average score of 74.  The site reported that School of Rock got 75% positive notices against 3% negative ones and 22% mixed reviews.   (My round-up will cover 33 press outlets, some different from Show-Score’s.)  The one aspect of the show which united almost all the reviews was the nearly unanimous praise for and delight in the performances of the 13 children who play the members of the School of Rock combo.  From the highest scoring to the lowest rated notice, not one reviewer dissed those kids. (As it happens, I saw then-12-year-old Niederauer, who plays lead-guitarist Zack, on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show last November and his musicianship was indeed remarkable.)

Among the dailies, the highest Show-Score rating (85) went to Matt Windman’s am New York review, in which the review-writer called School of Rock “highly enjoyable and heartwarming” with music that’s “occasionally serviceable and sappy” but “contains [Lloyd Webber’s] best music in a very long time, bursting with excitement more often than not.”  Windman made a special point of stating, “The dozen or so children are wildly talented and absolutely adorable.  I dare you not to smile as they stomp around and chant that they will ‘stick it to the man.’”  In the shadow of the blockbuster of last season, Hamilton, School isn’t “a game-changer,” the amNY writer offered, “but . . . it is a solid, well-structured musical comedy.”  (Windman also caught that School of Rock is “a modern version of ‘The Music Man.’”)  With a “Bottom Line” of “The kids are definitely all right in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s enjoyable show,” Linda Winer’s Newsday review labeled the movical “high-energy, enjoyable, [and] unrelentingly eager-to-please.”  The production, Winer asserted, “is as slick and sure of itself as if it had been running at the Winter Garden Theatre since Lloyd Webber’s ‘Cats’ closed 15 years ago.”  The pre-teen musicians are “all terrific,” declared Winer, and Slater’s “easygoing lyrics” are set to a “hard-rocking and comfortable” score by Lloyd Webber. 

In the New York Times, Ben Brantley described School of Rock as Lloyd Webber’s “friskiest [show] in decades” and “is about as easygoing as a show can be that threatens to break your eardrums.”  Brantley reported that “for its first half, at least, [School of Rock] charmingly walks the line between the cute and the precious, the sentimental and the saccharine.”  Brantley cautioned, however, that “in the more lazily formulaic second act . . ., you can taste glucose in the air.”  The adaptation’s creative team “translates [the film’s] sensibility into Broadway-ese with surprising fluency.”  In sum, the Timesman declared that “‘Rock’ is surprisingly easy to swallow, in large part because everyone involved seems to be having such a fine time,” adding that “family audiences should be grateful for a Lloyd Webber show that only wants to have fun and hopes that you do, too.”  The New York Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli  pointed out that every part of the show except one is “on the plot’s outskirts” because “the story is centered on the relationship between the children and Dewey.”  Vincentelli, though, did complain of the play’s sexism since the “adult women are either straight-laced or shrewish, while the little girls are stuck in rock’s traditional parts.”  The musical’s “whole heap of new tunes by Andrew Lloyd Webber,” says the Post reviewer, are his “catchiest tunes in years.” 

The unsigned Daily News review (which Show-Score identifies as Joe Dziemianowicz’s) described School of Rock as a “wildly energetic but uneven show” made up of “the great and fantastical stuff” of Broadway musicals.  The News review-writer named a few songs that “jolts [sic] the show awake,” then complained that “they’re exceptions.  Most of the new songs tend to be just okay at best.”  The songs, Dziemianowicz said, feel “generic” and at many points, “the music is just too loud for its own good, suppressing what may be decent lyrics under amplified purple haze.”  Overall, the Newsman complained, “The show wants to rock your socks off, but it just moves in fits and starts and feels labored” and director Connor’s “staging is inconsistent.”   Still, the “young actors/musicians all kick axe,” but it’s “a show that can’t get out of its own way—or add much to the classic movie.”  In the U.S. edition of London’s Guardian, Alexis Soloski labeled the movical a “perfectly pleasant, perfectly innocuous new musical,” though she warned that early scenes “are wholly predictable” and “musical numbers are unhappily anodyne.”  Then Soloski added, “But things perk up when the younger cast members finally get a chance to sing and play.”  She explained: “The children are universally adorable and several of them are staggeringly accomplished musicians.  It is an absolute treat to hear them.”  Soloski complained, however, that Lloyd Webber’s songs don’t really rock: “any hard electric edges have been sanded away.”  School of Rock – The Musical, the Guardian reviewer concluded, “wants to please and please it does.  But rock it doesn’t.”

Robert Feldberg of the Bergen County, New Jersey, Record called School “old-fashioned and predictable” in a review entitled “Remember when people thought rock-and-roll would save the world?”  He responded to his own question by asserting, “That mantra is the ringingly dated message of ‘School of Rock,’ a throwback musical in more ways than one.”  Then, however, Feldberg added, “But it’s also fun, demonstrating how entertaining a formulaic evening, smartly executed, can be.”  “Directed . . . at a rapid pace,” School of Rock has “a strong, if simple, story . . ., apt songs . . ., [and] lively performances.”  With “all-around theater know-how, the show is a tribute to professionalism,” affirmed the Record review-writer.  Feldberg concluded that School of Rock “is meant to be a feel-good musical, and, despite its manipulativeness and cartoonish characters, it largely succeeds.”  

On NJ.com, Christopher Kelly of the Newark ­Star-Ledger predicted that the “faithful-bordering-on-slavish adaptation of the” movie “will win no prizes for originality.”  Labeling the movical a “big, noisy musical,” Kelly asserted that it “transposes virtually every scene from the film onto the stage.”  The Star-Ledger reviewer found that the music and  lyrics “are a forgettable pastiche of contemporary Top 40 pop-rock,” then reported that School of Rock “nevertheless keeps a smile plastered on your face” because “there can be no denying the verve and indomitable energy of the young cast.”  Connor and Fellowes “do a fine job moving the story along at a pleasant clip”; however, “the real stars of this show are the thirteen children who play the members of Dewey’s class, pint-sized forces of nature who sing, dance and play instruments.”  Kelly’s last thought was that spectators

could wish that choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter had come up with something more inventive than the stomp-heavy moves so reminiscent of the dance numbers in “Matilda.”  You could also complain that the two main female parts . . . are such tired, rhymes-with-witch clichés.  Or you could sit back and enjoy a musical that reminds us that “family-f[riend]ly entertainment” need not also be an insult to a grown-up’s intelligence and good taste.  “School of Rock” may not be one for the history books, but it nonetheless has plenty of valuable lessons to teach. 

The Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout opened his notice with a declaration:

The commodity musical, that parasitical genre in which Hollywood hits of the relatively recent past are repurposed for profit by turning them into paint-by-the-numbers big-budget Broadway shows, is the worst thing to happen to American musical comedy since maybe ever. 

Then he conceded that “there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be theoretically possible to write a good commodity musical,” and grudgingly allowed, “Turning ‘School of Rock’ into a musical isn’t the worst idea in the world.”  In fact, he affirmed that “if you need a safe, undemanding show to take your baby-boom parents to see over the holidays, it’ll do perfectly fine—but if that sounds like lukewarm praise, it is.”  Teachout reported that “Fellowes’s version isn’t funny” and the Lloyd Webber-Slater songs, except “Stick It to the Man,” which “is catchy, fun and extremely well staged by” choreographer Hunter, “are filler, synthetic and innocuous.” The WSJ reviewer also complained, “The music is loud but not ear-shreddingly so, though it’s impossible to hear the lyrics when the pit band cranks up.”  As for the “good stuff,” Teachout said only: “The kids are absolutely wonderful.”  His final comment?

I’ve seen worse and so have you, and if that’s enough to get you to spring for a pair of $145 tickets to “School of Rock,” go for it.  Just be forewarned: This is the kind of musical that sends you home wanting to rent the movie.  I don’t know about you, but that’s not why I go to the theater.

Brendan Lemon of the U.S. edition of the Financial Times, another wag on the theater beat, mused:

“Are you not entertained?” bellows Russell Crowe at the arena in the 2000 movie Gladiator.  All during School of Rock, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Colisseum-loud [sic] musical . . ., I kept asking myself the same question.  Like the victims of those enslaved warriors, I felt pummelled [sic] by the experience.

He, too, conceded that “the tremendously talented children in this cast perform with an intensity that only a churl could deny”; this is where the “show’s chief pleasures reside.”  Still, Lemon observed, “None of the new songs created by Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater, his lyricist, do much to enhance the existing tunes from the source material” even if the show “has been energetically directed.”  Fellowes’s book “honours the movie’s storyline with a Dowager’s dutifulness,” though “the transitions are abrupt and the characters’ backgrounds a little sketchy.”   

Elysa Gardner started right in by asking in USA Today: “How could you possibly resist them, these fresh, sunny faces and sweet pre-pubescent voices that dominate the cast of School of Rock – The Musical?”  Gardner reported that Lloyd Webber “happily, has approached the project with a healthy sense of humor, though he and lyricist Glenn Slater also provide a few earnest ballads.”  Repeating that “it’s the younger cast members who engage us most,” Gardner concluded that “you’ll root for all of them, and have a grand time doing so.”

The New Yorker’s “Goings On About Town” column declared that School of Rock “goes straight for the pleasure center” and that the Lloyd Webber-Slater songs “really do rock.”  (The New Yorker reviewer was another who saw “a latter-day Harold Hill” in Dewey Finn.)  The columnist concluded by pointing out, “But the chief triumph of Laurence Connor’s production is the child actors, who give winning, distinctive performances.”  Also making comparisons with Meredith Willson’s classic Music Man, Jesse Green remarked in New York magazine, “If you are willing to overlook trite sentiments like” those expressed in the lyric “Wreck your room and rip your jeans / and show ’em what rebellion means” (from “Stick It to the Man”), School of Rock “has a fair amount to offer: . . . a clean, swift staging by Laurence Connor; and, for those who like it, temporary deafness.”  Green confirmed, though, “The big gimmick is of course the kids,” whom he labeled “terrific” (and, the man from New York assured us, “not overly adorable”) even if each “has a predictable arc and a backstory full of clichés” that’s “completely pro forma and signboarded like crazy.”  The adults, said Green, are saddled with the need to “turn salesmanship into character,” but “Fellowes’s book doesn’t allow it, offering no psychology, only traits.”  Comparing the score to that of “the best musical comedies,” Green asserted, “But School of Rock, like many rock musicals, has a problem availing itself of the genre’s full power, because reasonably authentic rock of the type imitated here, circa 1975, has such a limited vocabulary.”  Slater’s lyrics,” when they can be heard, are clean and on point,” but Lloyd Webber “is not, in any case, a real rock composer” and his music “grabs whatever tropes seem handy” for the moment at hand.  But, Green proclaimed, “The problem is what the point is”:

If Dewey represents the anarchic spirit of rock, and we are meant to cheer when he gets the kids to share that spirit, do we suddenly not notice that he’s, well, a loser? . . . .  Looked at squarely, this is a show about a poseur, not just liberating but undermining everyone around him.  (The musical’s villain is his roommate’s girlfriend, who is punished for the crime of wanting him to pay his rent by being turned into a hideous nightmare bitch.) 

“There is [a] tremendous amount of talent . . . behind School of Rock," asserted Jesse Oxfeld in Entertainment Weekly

And yet, without a doubt and by a long shot, the best things on the stage of the Winter Garden Theatre are the dozen or so unknown kids who steal the show . . . .  They bring to what might otherwise be a dutiful screen-to-stage retread an inspiring jolt of energy, joy, whimsy, and—do the kids still say this?—mad skillz.

School of Rock isn’t perfect,” the EW reviewer observed, but Lloyd Webber “has written a fun, catchy, rock-ish score,” reported Oxfeld, continuing that “when those kids . . . take the stage, School of Rock is a delight.”  Time Out New York’s David Cote said the adaptation from film to stage by the “unlikely creative team” of School “successfully execute such a smart transfer,” even if those who saw the movie will know what to expect.  “It worked for the movie, and wow, does it work on Broadway,” declared Cote.  School of Rock is “one tight, well-built show,” according to the man from TONY; having “absorbed the diverse lessons of Rent, Spring Awakening and Matilda,” it “passes them on to a new generation.”  He asserted, “You’d have to have zero sense of humor about pop to not enjoy Webber’s jaunty pastiche score.” 

In the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney, labeling School of Rock “disarming,” asserted that “the show knows full well that its prime asset is the cast of ridiculously talented kids.”  Still, Rooney reported, “In terms of screen-to-stage remakes, this is neither the most imaginative nor the most pedestrian of them.”  The HR reviewer said that “the musical is funny and endearing for much the same reasons as the movie,” but went on, “Where it distinguishes itself is in providing the sheer unalloyed pleasure of being in the same physical space as the baker’s dozen preteen stars.”  While extolling Lloyd Webber’s “commercial instincts,” Rooney found that “his songs are ersatz rock at best, and more often efficient than inspired, while Slater’s lyrics tend to express feelings rather than advance the action.”  Connor’s direction, the review-writer felt, “is not always the most elegant,” but the production design is “first-rate.”  In conclusion, Rooney stated, “Ultimately, what makes this show a crowd-pleaser is the generosity of spirit.”  Variety’s Marilyn Stasio, describing School of Rock as “an exuberant feel-good musical,” declared, “Andrew Lloyd Webber unleashed his inner child to write” the movical, as he and his creative colleagues “are clearly child-friendly.”  The only change Stasio found between the Lloyd Webber-Fellowes-Slater stage adaptation and the film was that the creators managed “to lay on the energetic rock songs” of the new score. 

David Roberts called School of Rock a “powerhouse musical” on Theatre Reviews Limited and said it “reflects significantly ‘what and how we are now’ and moves forward in creative ways to address significant cultural and—perhaps surprisingly—political issues,” referencing the late Elizabeth Swados.  Roberts added that Dewey’s “antics in the classroom are over-the-top joy to watch and hear” and the four musicians at the center of the band “will make the audience fall back into their seats in awe at the craft of these young musicians.”  The TRL blogger continued, “The electrifying twenty-eight (some reprised) songs literally rock the walls of the iconic Winter Garden Theatre.”  Connor’s direction is “galvanizing,” the cast is “uniformly excellent,” and Fellowes’s book “is refreshing.”  Roberts concluded, “‘School of Rock – The Musical’ succeeds because audience members can so easily identify with its characters and connect to their conflicts.” 

On Theater Pizzazz, Sandi Durell stated, like so many of her peers, that School is “all about the fabulous talented kids and louder than loud music.”  She warned, though, “You may not be able to make out all the lyrics, and may find some of the tunes repetitive but that’s okay, it’s all about the hot, high energy.”  Nonetheless, “Anna Louizos’ fine eye designs the detailed sets and costumes; Natasha Katz’[s] first rate lighting adds the rock stadium quality, while choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter moves [the cast] all around like supple chess pieces.”  The TP reviewer also felt that director Laurence Connor “stirs ‘em up and voila . . . you’ve got a hot ‘School of Rock’ blend of audience pleasers.”  Calling much of Lloyd Webber’s hard-rock score “uninspired” on Theatre’s Leiter Side, Samuel L. Leiter acknowledged that under the “enthusiastic” direction of Connor, the stage musical, with a plot “offering some additional material” by Fellowes, has “its success . . . practically guaranteed.”  Leiter pronounced the story “a fairy tale,” but asserted that “you believe and you accept [it] because it’s presented with a just enough skill and charm to make it irresistible.  In fact, you’ll probably even wipe away a happy tear or two.”  While he praised the work of the design team, Leiter concluded that it’s the “extraordinarily talented kids” who make “a B-minus show into an A-minus one.”  CurtainUp’s Elyse Sommer dismissed School as “not . . . big on originality, depth or high art” but acknowledged (like so many others) that the “kids are irresistible.”  The production, centering on the “super talented” ‘tween band members, is “smoothly directed,” but Sommer warned, “Forget about looking for any especially deep or controversial themes” since “this really isn’t a message musical.”  In the final analysis, “School of Rock [remains] strictly what it is—a not to be taken seriously hard rocking, feel good romp.”

On NY Theatre Guide, Marc Miller, while acknowledging the connection to The Music Man like some of his colleagues, also compared School with other recent musicals centering on children and observed, “You’ve seen a lot of it already”—although “School of Rock has its share of fun.”  Miller asserted that the movical’s creative team “are out only to entertain, logic and character development be damned.  On a ground-floor level, they succeed.”  Fellowes, this cyber reviewer complained, “knows how to land a laugh and where to introduce sentiment and conflict,” but doesn’t “probe beneath the surface.”  The tease of the musical scene in which the children sing about the inattentiveness of their parents made Miller want “to know more about these parent-kid conflicts and how they’d be resolved.  But they’re resolved in the most pat way imaginable.”  There’s “not much depth,” but the “surface-skimming along the way” is “enjoyable.”  The score, he reported, is Lloyd Webber’s “friskiest in years” and the “lyrics are well crafted and clever, when you can hear them.”  Miller found that “more than half the words are distorted beyond intelligibility or drowned out by the ear-splitting kid rockers.”  He lauded the designers, but Connnor’s “direction is more efficient than inspired.”  Despite its assets, however, “there’s an unadventurous carefulness to School of Rock’s approach that somewhat undercuts what little it’s trying to say.”

Michael Dale of Broadway World labeled School of Rock an “enthralling, high-energy kickass new hard-rockin’ musical” with a “solid set of lyrics, the funny and sincerely touching book . . . and a top flight cast.”  The result, said Dale, “is a big, beautiful blast of musical comedy from start to finish.”  (Instead of The Music Man, the oldie to which Dale likened School was “basically THE SOUND OF MUSIC without the Nazis.”)  The BWW review-writer acknowledged that the “crisp production is enhanced by Anna Louizos[‘s] fluidly moving set” and, despite some plot moments “that defy logic” and some “clichéd” small roles, “the musical’s exuberant score and meaningful theme . . . glosses over any weak spots.”  Dale’s conclusion was: “School of Rock is a great night out.”  Suggesting that a theatergoer’s expectations for a show with child actors might be “way too high” and that such a show would be “courting disaster,” Talkin’ Broadway’s Matthew Murray assured us that “those expectations arent just met, theyre exceeded—by several orders of magnitude.”  Of course, Murray went on to heap lavish praise on the work of the young musicians and singers of School of Rock and then moved on to state, “Lloyd Webber still knows how to craft and orchestrate a rock melody, his tunes at once ultra-cool and searing hot.”  Then Murray backed off a little: “Unfortunately, whenever [Dewey] and his glittering charges aren’t center stage, School of Rock satisfies considerably less” because, due to Fellowes’s book and Connor’s staging, “all of the supporting characters are bloated and unbelievable”; the TB reviewer characterized them as “brain-dead stereotypes and dramatic one-dimensionality.” The rest of the score, aside from the kids’ numbers, are “a series of lame songs” and Murray demeaned the production design and choreography as “the straightforward, at-face-value variety” that ends the evening as “one big, loud question mark.”  (Murray was another reviewer who complained that “Mick Potters sound design tends to muddy lyrics when lots of people are singing and playing at once.”)  Still, in the end, he insisted, “Seeing [the young performers] unleash all they have and then some is destined to be one of the most scintillating joys of this Broadway season, and worth the price of admission by itself.”

On TheaterScene, Victor Gluck called School “delightful” and “dynamic and exuberant,” and, extolling the “fabulously talented” ‘tweens, Gluck asserted that School of Rock “also makes spectacular use of its musical idioms as well as the tremendous new talent.”  The movical, he reported, “will have [you] rooting for its hero quite soon and send you out at the end feeling good about the underdog coming out on top.”  Gluck’s final assessment is: “One of the most satisfying shows of the season.”  Zachary Stewart of TheaterMania pronounced that “School of Rock is cute and occasionally funny, but not any more than its source material, making its onstage existence something of an extravagant ‘meh.’”  Calling the play a “whimsically implausible romp,” the TM reviewer characterized the Lloyd Webber score as “hit-or-miss music . . ., considering that many of his songs resemble a cell phone ringtone: electronic notes presented in a repetitive sequence.”  Stewart reversed himself slightly, adding, “Still, they’re often catchy and hard to forget.”  Fellowes’s adaption is “efficient,” reported Stewart, and Slater’s “lyrics are adequate yet unremarkable, getting the job done with a minimal amount of wit.”  While he gave faint praise to Connor’s staging, Louizos’s sets and costumes, and Katz’s lighting, he complained about Potter’s sound design in which “lyrics and dialogue are often lost.”  “Luckily,” Stewart added, “School of Rock has a supercharged cast to transform this leaden material into musical-comedy gold,” even if it’s “an undeniably fun musical that is nevertheless not particularly special.”

David Finkle reported on the Huffington Post that the saving grace of School of Rock is its “great finish,” which, “like just about every other of the not abundant high points in this Lloyd Webber-ized School of Rock, it involves the terrific young actors—several of them young actor-musicians—working like cheerful demons.”  “Oh, yes, musical comedy aficionados,” HP’s First Nighter stressed, “it’s the non-voting-age players, including the adorably proficient Isabella Russo as the band manager, who steal this undertaking while the bigger names above and below the title hit wonky notes on their figurative Fender guitars.”  As for Lloyd Webber’s score, Finkle thought that “his newest melodies and riffs, which he orchestrated, conjure only Broadway-rock of the ’70s” and that they “swiftly begin to sound alike”; he had a similar complaint about Hunter's choreography.  The production design is “more than adequate,” said Finkle, but he had many nits to pick with Fellowes’s book.  Like so many of his peers, Finkle asserted that it’s the “knee-high-to-grasshopper” band members who make School worth seeing, and “More power to them,” the HP reviewer declared.

Calling School of Rock a “pop song of a musical” on WNYC, a public radio outlet in New York City, Jennifer Vanasco affirmed, “One thing you can say for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘School of Rock – The Musical,’ now playing at the Winter Garden Theatre: the kids are really, really charming.  And talented.  They play their own instruments and they really rock out.”  Vanasco felt, “It gets off to a slow start, with too much set up, but then there’s a truly great scene” when Dewey assembles the classroom band and the students “take up their instruments with joy and ferocity.”  The WNYC reviewer objected, however, that “the sunny easiness of the story and the cuteness of the kids is marred by two things”: “rampant gay stereotypes” of Luca Padovan’s Billy and Tomika’s gay dads (Steven Booth and Michael Hartney) and Mamie Parris’s Patty, “written as a one-noted witch.”  She concluded: “These flaws—and the very traditional staging and script—make the show feel cynical, like it’s pandering to the audience’s worst tendencies.  If only it had been brave enough to break out of its own musical theater box.”  On NY1, the all-news channel for Time Warner Cable subscribers in New York City, Roma Torre declared “‘School Of Rock’ is a rock solid hit!”  The story “is a fairy tale of course but it’s an irresistible one” with Lloyd Webber’s score “his best in years” and a book that “matches the film’s subversive humor with a human touch.”  Connor’s direction is “flawless,” bringing “all of the pieces . . . together in perfect harmony,” “aided immeasurably” by Louizos’s “terrific scenic design.”  The play’s “secret weapon,” though, is the “[m]agnificent talents” of the ’tween actors.  School of Rock, Torre concluded, “may not be groundbreaking, but as crowd-pleasing entertainment, it doesn’t miss a beat.” 

On WNBC television, the network outlet in New York City, Robert Kahn declared right at the outset, “A dozen pint-sized and pitch-perfect performers bring heart to” the new musical, “an otherwise workaday screen-to-stage adaptation” with a “faithful, if prosaic book.”  Outside of the young actor-musicians, affirmed Kahn, “we tread familiar territory.”  Lloyd Webber’s songs “are a polarizing bunch,” with few that Kahn predicted “will enjoy an afterlife”; the pre-teen characters “sometimes verge on stock depictions” and the adults “fully cross the line”; and Ned and Patty, though acted well, are “cartoons.”  Kahn warned, “You suspend disbelief to appreciate ‘School of Rock,’” which he admitted “doesn’t particularly resonate for me, but I won’t soon forget the feel-good vibe radiating off the talented young performers.”  The Associated Press reviewer, Mark Kennedy (as broadcast on WTOP radio in Washington, D.C.), labeled School of Rock a “sweet, well-constructed musical” with “a wondrously rebellious spirit and a superb cast.”   Kennedy reported, “A heartwarming story and a stage full of pre-pubescent kids who know their way around an amp prove irresistible” and Lloyd Webber, with Slater’s lyrics, “turns in some perfectly solid mainstream rock-ish anthems.”  The AP reviewer noted that Fellowes has been “so faithful” to the screenplay that “you may wonder why he even gets a credit,” but director Connor “leads a crisp, snappy show.”

I don’t usually do this, but because the spread of notices spanned nearly the entire range of Show-Score ratings, I’m going to add some comments from the site’s highest-scoring review (Front Row Center, 100) and its lowest-scoring one (The Wrap, 30).  Both of these are sites I don’t customarily consult.  FRC’s Michael Hillyer encouraged people who enjoyed the 2003 movie or like rock music to rush to the Winter Garden box office because “you’re probably gonna love School Of Rock, The Musical.”  Lloyd Webber, Fellowes, and Slater have “absolutely nailed” the transfer from screen to stage and audiences “will enjoy the over-the-top decibel level afforded by the live stage experience, as well as the face-shredding guitar solos, gut-wrenching drum riffs and electric bass and keyboards wizardry that punctuate this joyously unabashed celebration of heavy rock music.”  Hillyer declared, “This is Lloyd Webber’s best rock score in decades, there isn’t a weak song in the show, and the cast is up to its demanding vocals as well.”  With praise for the young actor-musicians of School of Rock, the reviewer for FRC also mentioned the designers. the adult actors, and the “loving and tight control” of director Connor.  Hillyer concluded that “School Of Rock ought to be in session for a long time to come.” 

Robert Hofler complained that Dewey in the play is “a total slob,” which is “different from being a messy free spirit,” as the film’s main character is.  Instead of the “anarchic edge of comedy” portrayed by Jack Black, Hofler found “just a big boorish thug.”  The Wrapper also found deficiencies in the portrayals of Ms. Mullins and Patty on stage in contrast with the film counterparts.  “Other actors and another director might have made this ‘School’ better,” asserted Hofler.  “But then there’s the material itself.”  He affirmed, “What the musical most needs is a complete overhaul for the stage; instead it gets Julian Fellowes‘ faithful-to-a-fault adaptation.”  He gave Lloyd Webber and Slater wan praise for the score, dismissing the “traditionally Broadway” numbers.  (Hofler cautioned against including “other composers’ music,” referring to some classic pieces Lloyd Webber uses in the show.  “It is nice to go out humming Mozart,” he quipped.)  His final comment was: “In ‘School of Rock,’ the parents eventually embrace their children’s newfound love of very loud and not very good rock music.  Most parents in the audience, however, might wonder if Actors’ Equity has taken up a fund for the many talented young performers on stage who . . . will require hearing devices.”

The stage musical’s appeal is obviously aimed at families with ‘tween kids; there were a lot of them in the Sunday matinee audience I attended.  (As I noted in my press survey, the band kids took nearly all the reviews.)  I presume that accounts for a few things about this production.  One, the play’s less than 2½ hours long, quite short for a Broadway musical (most run from 2½ to 3 hours and even more).  Two, the Sunday matinees are at 1 p.m. and the evening show is at 6, both early by traditional standards, presumably to get the families, especially the ones from the ‘burbs, in and out early; the other mats are at 2, but the evening show on Saturday after the mat is at 7:30, and so is Friday’s evening performance.  Three, the other two evening shows are at 7, really early for Broadway nowadays.  Four, there are three matinee performances a week: aside from the Saturday and Sunday afternoon shows, there’s a 2 o’clock Wednesday mat as well.  Five, there’s an evening performance on Monday, the day theaters are traditionally dark on Broadway (switched for Thursday at the Winter Garden), probably to entice theatergoers to midtown on an evening when the rest of Broadway is quiet—easier parking and dining, not to mention maneuvering around Times Square and catching a cab after the show. 

All this suggests “family friendly” to me, especially if you marry it to the kid-centric cast and plot and faux-rock score.  I should caution would-be parental attendees, however, that there are some aspects of School of Rock for which you might want to be prepared.  The No Vacancy lead singer struts around stage Jagger-like with a bare chest and tight, leather pants—not particularly threatening these days, I suppose—while singing “I’m Too Hot for You.”  There are also some racially and sexually stereotyped references, though mild, that could be seen as insulting in our PC society: the effeminate Billy and Tomika’s gay dads are pretty much clichés and Dewey casually calls an Asian-American character “Lucy Liu.”  Dewey also tosses out some mildly naughty language now and then—“douche bags” and being “pissed”—and no one calls him on it.  (The Guardian’s Soloski even quipped, “The concession stand should really have smelling salts on hand for anyone who believed that Fellowes could never script words like douche bags.”)

[A really interesting—and I’d bet, fascinating—story to come out of School of Rock – The Musical would be the casting of the kid musicians.  The talent search and auditions must have been amazing, seeking out these beyond-talented youngsters with actual rock chops.  There has to be a Making of . . ./Behind the Music documentary about that waiting somewhere in the wings.  Anyone wanna get on that?]

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