What a predicament the poor privileged kids at the private Horace Green Elementary School find themselves in under the staid, stuffy and strict rule of Principal Rosalie Mullins (Sierra Boggess) and the misplaced interest of their parents until Dewey Finn (a remarkable Alex Brightman) a forever late, shabby and hung over recently fired rock musician with passion and exuberance galore shows up as their substitute teacher with his original system of education that ultimately leads them to the Battle of the Bands.
After answering a call intended for his wannabe rockstar/teacher roommate Ned (Spencer Moses) and his shrew of a girlfriend Patty (Mamie Parris) to whom he owes lots of back rent he ambles into the school pretending to be Ned and proceeds to shake things up. A lot.
Learning that the students have some musicality after Ms. Mullins sings the Queen of the Night Aria (Mozart) he then creates his dream rock band with these majorly talented minors in one of the better numbers “You’re in the Band” and eventually after many obstacles succeeds in winning over the parents and Ms. Mullins with a lot of high decibel rock tunes by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Lyrics by the skilled Glenn Slater suffice. They are mostly dependent on memorable “hooks” and sometimes difficult to hear because of the high decibel level. But the kids win us over. Over and over again. It’s in some of the adult scenes that the show slackens.
Because of the heavy load of exposition it takes a while for the action to start. But once those skilled youngsters take up their instruments all is forgiven. Book writer Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame channels his inner rock persona to tie up the sometimes obvious and sometimes implausible plot points successfully so that by the finale I was completely taken in and cheered along with the rest of the adrenalin infused audience.
The fluid sets by Anna Louizos, as always, help immensely to keep the rapid fire rhythm of the show directed by Laurence Connor on its express track. The hip hopping choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter is also in sync with the overall vision as is the expert lighting of Natasha Katz.
But the show belongs to those ultra-talented and cool kids. Brandon Niederauer as Zack riffing frantically on his guitar. Dante Melucci as Freddy on drums. A poker faced Evie Dolan as Katie on bass. Jared Parker on keyboard as Lawrence. The silent up to a point Tomika (Bobbi Mackenzie) who startles with “Amazing Grace” and Isabella Russo as Summer – (I have nick-named her “Princess Rapunzel”) whose turnabout is expected but welcomed. And a Tim Gunn in the making Luca Padovan as the stylish Billy.
I only wish they would never grow up. All of them. They are perfect just as they are. Their song to their parents “If Only You Would Listen” is poignant and delivers a wonderful message and happens to be one of the best songs in the show – other than the one written by Mozart.
Leading the troops is the indefatigable Alex Brightman who will certainly be rewarded come Tony time. What a performance. Along with him is the surprising Sierra Boggess who absolutely glows after her Eve Arden like take blossoms. It is her Mozart aria that you will be humming after the show.
Based on the Paramount movie written by Mike White. At the Winter Garden Theatre where another Andrew Lloyd Webber perennial CATS! almost ran forever.
photos: Matthew Murphy
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