Is it time we let Generation Z take over Broadway? Judging from the junior phenoms who shine in School of Rock (they make the Matilda gang look like slackers), it might not be a bad move. Not only are these kids – notably, Brandon Niederauer on guitar, Bobbi Mackenzie on vocals – already proven prodigies, they seem totally at home on stage. Exhibiting not a whiff of showbiz-kid cutesiness, they’re just there to act, and play, and give the rest of us a good time.
Key to the show’s success is Alex Brightman’s appeal as the unrepentant neer-do-well Dewey (Jack Black’s role in the 2003 movie), who cons his way into a substitute teacher position at an up-tight, old-school academy. Brightman, who has the requisite vocal chops, is the ideal Dewey: shambolic but smart, puppyishly well-intentioned and perversely irresistible, even if his irresponsibility toward his best friend – and unsuspecting dupe – Ned (Spencer Moses), verges on evil. Mamie Parris plays Ned’s over-controlling fiancée with such amusing ferocity, there’s no question that an intervention is in order.
The one underutilized lead – ill served by the creative team (book by Julian Fellowes, lyrics by Glenn Slater, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber) – is Sierra Boggess, straitlaced into the role of uptight schoolmarm Rosalie. Will that chignon ultimately come tumbling down? Do tried-and-true theater tropes ever die? It’s just a shame that Rosalie’s unraveling arrives in the form of the drippy ballad “Where Did the Rock Go?” (transpose a few of the opening notes, and you’d have Oliver’s “Where Is Love?”). She confesses that she’s a Stevie Nicks fan – why not give her something more rousing (a “Go Your Own Way” perhaps)?
Her adulation of Nicks also throws into question the intended vintage of this production – as do Anna Louizos’ decade-nonspecific costume designs. The biggest flaw, production-wise, is sound designer Mick Potter’s choice of jaw mikes, which are not only visually jarring but muddle the lyrics. Judging by those that make it through, Slater’s contribution is probably fairly witty. The opening song, “I’m Too Hot for You,” certainly is. We won’t know how the rest fare until the album comes out.
But meanwhile one thing is certain – or at least I hope so. We’ll be seeing a lot more of these promising young performers.