Thursday, May 5, 2016

Rocking the Winter Garden Theatre

Walking into the Winter Garden Theatre, I'm always going to think of Cats since it was the first show I saw in that beautiful space. Andrew Lloyd Webber has returned to his home with his latest musical School of Rock (which has an inside jab at Cats). Based on the film of the same name that starred a crazy Jack Black pretending to be a teacher simply to make money, the musical sticks very closely to the screenplay - adding in Lloyd Webber songs where it feels appropriate.

Let me just say that I grabbed a last minute ticket to a matinee at TKTS, ended up on the inside aisle of the 5th row, and the kids and parents around me were loving this show. It's this season's Matilda. A true show the entire family can enjoy (if you bring earplugs). It is ROCK and it is LOUD. I've always been a huge fan of Sir Lloyd Webber, but didn't find anything in this score too inspiring or exciting. You will hear bits and pieces of his former works, but the audiences don't seem to mind. It's not about that. It's about rocking out, cheering loudly at every cute/clever moment that happens on stage. And yes - the kids ARE adorable in this show.

The prep school children that find their inner rock star are all wonderful in their own way...and as the announcement tells you before the show - they play the instruments themselves. I was totally enthralled each time they were on the stage. For me, they are the true stars of the show and I appreciate how each of them has their own personality and moments to shine.

I was curious to see Alex Brightman in this show since he got so many different nominations this year. The man was born the year I moved to NYC (boy do I feel old) and has been in Wicked, Big Fish, Matilda but finally got his big break with this tour-de-force role. He is screaming rock at the top of his lungs, running around the stage like a madman amped up on Red Bull & entertaining the audience each time he opens his mouth - I don't know how he does it all. (I was really glad he played the matinee as I wasn't sure he'd be on.) He truly is a talent. However, I wish director Laurence Connor would have trusted him more to create an original character and not have him copy the film as that's what I felt I was getting. Right down to the facial expressions he'd make. However, he does work well with those talented kids and for that I give him high kudos.

The other person people would recognize is Sierra Boggess (The Little Mermaid, Love Never Dies) as the school principal who you know will be letting her hair down in a rock show the moment she appears all prim and proper. She gets to show her soprano voice off in this role while acting like an uptight Marion from The Music Man. The other adults are all totally fine adding multiple characters in what they know is set dressing around the man and the kids. (Unfortunately, the script is written so unevenly, there isn't much more for them to do except play the parents and the teachers in this show that centers on the children.)

There isn't anything that 'new' or 'different' in School of Rock in this year of revolutionary theater. I felt I'd seen it all before and not simply because it was a film. The cardboard characters that aren't fleshed out, the standard sets, nothing thrilled me. So for that reason, I'd really only recommend this to families looking for something to take their kids to. I am disappointed after seeing this that the Tony committee recognized it with the 4 nominations that it received. There were other shows and performances (cough...American Psycho - Benjamin Walker) that definitely should have gotten in over what I witnessed at the Winter Garden. Guess I'll just have to keep my memories for now of previous shows in this theater until the next production comes along that blows me away. 




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