Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new hit offering, “School of Rock the Musical,” opened on Broadway last week at the Winter Garden, the home for many years of his most famous musical, “Cats.” Based on the 2003 Richard Linklater film, “School of Rock” stars Alex Brightman in the Jack Black role of Dewey, a chunky wannabe rocker who makes some extra cash posing as a music teacher for fifth graders who turn out to be musical progenies. In real life, these tykes play all their own instruments, with exuberance, skill and joy that is unbelievable and total fun.
But the real center of energy is Brightman, a ball of energy who bounces around the stage like a human tornado and never stops moving. From my seat back in the orchestra I could see Brightman’s shirt was drenched in sweat. And although he doesn’t look or move like Jagger, he has all of his rocker spirit.
At the after party at – where else? – The Hard Rock Café in Times Square, real life rockers Stevie Nicks, Sting and Mick Fleetwood, mixed with “School of Rock” stars Brightman, Spencer Moses, Mamie Parrris and Sierra Boggess.
On the red carpet, I spoke to lyricist Glenn Slater, and Julian Fellowes, who wrote the book. And yes the same Fellowes who wrote the screenplays for “Gosford Park” and the hugely successful “Downton Abbey.” I could not get to Sir Lloyd Webber, who spent most of the evening ensconced with the youngsters from the show, although I overheard him tell a journalist that “Cats” would be coming back to Broadway.
Glenn Slater told me this is his second collaboration with Lloyd Webber. He worked with the composer on “Love Never Dies,” the sequel to “Phantom of the Opera.” “Love Never Dies” ran for one and a half years in London, but hasn’t come to the U.S. yet. The lyricist said of the composer, “He’s a titan of musical theater. He hears the music in his head and immediately knows how it’s going to be orchestrated, how it’s going to look on stage and who should be singing it. I just run and try to keep up.”
Slater told me Lloyd Webber is a rocker at heart. He visited his English country home and said, “I worked my way through the incredible hallways filled with Victorian art and sculptures and tapestries, and then you’ll eventually come to a closest that is filled top to bottom with heavy metal records, and he will put them on a vinyl turntable and crank them up to 11 and he will rock out.” Lloyd Webber as a heavy metal fan is not an image that easily comes to mind, but Slater told me the composer likes to rock out with AC/DC, Vanilla Fudge, Ultimate Spinach and Black Sabbath.
Julian Fellowes told me this was the first time he’d ever worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber. They spoke a couple of times before the musical transpired about collaborating, but neither of them was free. As for any rocker ambitions he ever had in high school, Fellowes told me, “I was the fat guy who wasn’t cool.” He added of his writing that he’s not only a “period guy,” but that he’s written contemporary drama before and likes writing for children.
As for the film, “I adored the movie,” Fellowes told me, “which is why I knew at once when he offered it I said yes right away. I hope we’ve been true to the film and that people who enjoyed the film will enjoy the show. That was certainly my plan.”
Brightman was the last person on the red carpet and still had boundless energy. I asked him how he kept moving for almost three hours on stage. “I would imagine because it’s the most fun show on earth but also the kids. They are little bottles of energy that we break every night and the energy comes flying out, and then for some reason or other they’re able to bottle it every single night and break it again and whenever I need it I get energy from them.”
The baby faced Brightman gained 35 pounds for the part, and it’s become a problem keeping it on. “I’ve lost 22 pounds since we started previews til tonight,” which is only a month. “I’m trying to figure out a way to not look totally fit because it doesn’t fit the character,” he told me. “But now I’m getting almost back to normal. I’m moving around. I’m lifting up kids, jumping off things, singing my guts out.” He doesn’t like sweets, so he doesn’t stuff his face with donuts. “I’m a big nachos guy.”
As for working with the legendary composer, Brightman told me he was surprised by how collaborative he was. “He likes to get in there and noodle and make sure that it’s just right, and if that doesn’t work we’ll try something else. He’s like a young 22-year-old composer, and I feel that’s why his shows are so successful.”
As for whether Jack Black has come around yet to see the show, Brightman told me, “No, and I can’t wait. I’m sure the moment will happen. I’m going to let it happen naturally. I’m not going to try to force it.”