Andrew Lloyd Webber made a surprise appearance at the first performance of his new musical “School of Rock” last week at the Winter Garden on Broadway. The musical adaptation of the 2003 comedy stars Alex Brightman (“Matilda) in the Jack Black role. Lloyd Webber and the director Laurence Connor stunned the audience when they materialized in front of the stage to say a few words before the show began.
Lloyd Webber told the audience that the musical’s dress rehearsal took place only the previous night, “so if this show goes through, you’ll be sharing this experience with the cast” as the first performance. During the dress rehearsal, Lloyd Webber said he forgot to switch his microphone off and left it standing against the wall. “All the way through the first 15 minutes we were frantically trying to figure out why there was feedback.”
Lloyd Webber handed the microphone to the director, who added that not only was this the world premiere, but also, since they had rehearsed the show at the tiny Gramercy Theater in Manhattan, he told the audience, “tonight you make up a bigger audience than have ever seen the show so far.”
Alex Brightman stars in “School of Rock” as Dewey, the Jack Black role of the slovenly wannabe rock star that molds his prep-school students into his dream band. (Brightman performed in “Matilda” and “Big Fish.”)
The supporting cast of adults features Sierra Boggess, Spencer Moses and Mamie Parris.
The show doesn’t open until Dec. 6, but it went on without a hitch. The children in the band are sensational. Lloyd Webber told me after the show that they auditioned about 20,000 children for the show, which they got down to about 15,000 and so on. “I got involved when they got down to about the last 15, I guess, roughly,” he told me. “They’re fantastic and they’ve just gotten better and better.”
I told him during the curtain call I expected a band to appear from underneath the stage. I couldn’t figure out if these little tykes were pretend playing their instruments or not. “No, no, no” Lloyd Webber told me. “That’s all them. We have obviously got the real band, but when the children are playing, it’s all them. They’re pretty amazing.”
The musical is about empowering kids to rock out and imagines deep in the soul of every child is a rock maniac clamoring to get out. The featured songs are “You’re in the Band,” and the anthem “Stick It to the Man.”
Rock is not something you usually associate with the composer of “Evita” and “Cats.” But the musical isn’t all rock. The composer has given Sierra Boggess – who plays the buttoned up principal – some operatic trills. “We must give her something to give her a bit of a challenge,” Lloyd Webber said, adding that her operatic moments were inspired by Mozart and even his “Phantom” number “Queen of the Night.”
Meanwhile Brightman has captured all the wild man, manic energy of Jack Black’s character in the film. The portly leading man is a perpetual motion machine throughout the show. I overheard a cast member say that the actor runs around so much during the performance that his shirts are drenched and by the end of Act One they have to wring the water out.
“They should e-bottle the sweat,” said a cast member. “They should put it up on eBay. It’s going to be worth something once the show opens.”