At first glance, School of Rock does not seem like Andrew Lloyd Webber material. Could the man who wrote the music for shows like Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, Evita, Sunset Boulevard, and The Phantom of the Opera find inspiration in the story of a scruffy hard-rocker who turns a class of fifth graders into a kick-ass band?
The answer is an emphatic yes—which is no surprise to Sierra Boggess, who plays uptight principal Rosalie in the show and is a veteran of three other Lloyd Webber musicals. “Andrew has always said he likes rock music so this wasn’t much of a stretch,” she said, adding that School of Rock is a bit of a return to Lloyd Webber’s Superstar rock roots. A surprising number of his works overlap the R&R spirit: “Phantom is a rock song. A lot of his stuff has rock in it.”
Lloyd Webber, Glenn Slater (lyrics), and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes (book) built School of Rock from strong origins: Richard Linklater’s delightful 2003 film, with Jack Black as the wild-eyed, hyperkinetic rock star wannabe Dewey Finn, who scams a substitute teaching job, takes over a class full of classical music students, and molds them into first-rate rockers on the Q.T.
When Dewey—awesomely channeled by Alex Brightman—infuses his young disciples with rebellious fervor, you get a sense that Lloyd Webber and company have injected School of Rock with a dash of Spring Awakening and a smidgen of Matilda. The show’s most rousing song, “Stick it to the Man” (a passionate “us-against-them” anthem for both Dewey and his posse of fledgling Alice Coopers), has lyrics that speak directly—and loudly—to the underdog in all of us:
“When the world has screwed you and crushed you in its fist/When the way you’re treated has you good and pissed/There’s been one solution since the world began—don’t just sit and take it/Stick it to the man!”
Brightman simultaneously channels Black’s crazed energy and makes Dewey distinctly his own. With unkempt hair and mismatched clothes, he bounces across the stage at the Winter Garden Theatre with a manic style that endears him to the fifth graders who are desperate to change their restrictive parents’ expectations for them.
Alex Brightman and Sierra Boggess / Photo by Matthew Murphy
“It’s a really amazing thing that Alex is doing—like a cardio workout,” Boggess said. “We call it the ‘male Evita’ because Andrew writes these intense roles for women that should be only done six times a week, not eight, and Alex is in the male version of that role. It’s such a great thing to be part of his journey. I love watching him step into being a leading man.”
Each of the musically trained youngsters in Dewey’s band—eventually dubbed “School of Rock”—transforms as they shed their inhibitions, none more than the painfully shy Tomika (Bobbi MacKenzie). And pay attention to the intense facial expressions of Katie (Evie Dolan) on bass guitar.
“They’re not show kids, which is cool,” said Boggess who, along with the rest of the seasoned Broadway performers in cast, watched with awe as the youngsters mastered their onstage prowess during rehearsals and previews. “They’re musical theater kids, actual musicians who learned to sing and act for the show. So they’re really raw and learning—and they’re amazing,” added the acclaimed Broadway actress, who is clearly enjoying her leap, from pure ingénue in such roles as Christine in Phantom and Ariel in The Little Mermaid, to comedic leading lady whose pure soprano is as on point as her (look for it!) Stevie Nicks riff.
Sierra Boggess and cast of School of Rock/ Photo Matthew Murphy
“This is the first time I’ve been in a show where I haven’t had a Tyne Daly, a Sherie Rene Scott, or a Harriet Harris to look up to when I’m struggling,” Bogess said. “This is the first time I’m the one they [the kids] are looking up to, but I still think of myself as the kid at the stage door too nervous to ask for an autograph.”