Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Legitimate Theater: #5. "School of Rock" (2015)

School of Rock
Welcome to Legitimate Theater: a column dedicated to movie-based stage musicals. The goal of this series is to explore those stories that originated in films and eventually worked their way onto Broadway and beyond. By the end of each entry, there will hopefully be a better understanding of this odd but rampant trend in modern entertainment. Are these stories really worth telling through song and dance? How can it even compare to the technical prowess of a camera and seamless editing? Join me on this quest as I explore the highs and lows of this trend on the third Wednesday of every month and hopefully answer what makes this Legitimate Theater.


A few weeks back now, Andrew Lloyd Webber became an EGOT after winning a Tony for the recent TV production of Jesus Christ Superstar Live!. With a lengthy and iconic career, it makes sense that the Broadway auteur would continue to branch out and try anything and everything, whether it be Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Evita, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, or... I don't know, Starlight Express. He's done it all. With September marking the back to school season, it makes sense then that tribute is paid to the EGOT by looking at his adaptation of the movie School of Rock, itself nominated for four Tonys and based on a film with Jack Black (who has a film coming out this Friday called A House With a Clock In Its Walls, making this decision a triple threat of a pick). Still, does it hold up to his other work, or is this an example of an aging man going through a crisis? It's time to get out the guitars and rock as Legitimate Theater shreds through this ode to everything rock'n roll. 

A Quick Background

Tony Nominations: 4 (including Best Musical)
Based on: School of Rock (2003)
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Book: Julian Fellowes
Prominent Actors:  Alex Brightman, Sierra Boggess, Spencer Moses, Mamie Parris


1. "When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock"
2. "Horace Green Alma Mater"
3. "Here at Horace Green"
4. "Variation 7/Children of Rock"
5. "Give Up Your Dreams"
6. "Queen of the Night"
7. "You're in the Band"
8. "If Only You Would Listen"
9. "In the End of Time (A Cappella Version"
10. "Faculty Quadrille"
11. "Stick It To The Man"
12. "Time to Play"
13. "Where Did the Rock Go?
14. "Dewey's Confession"
15. "Act 2, Scene 8: Dewey's Bedroom"
16. "School of Rock (Teacher's Pet)"
17. "Finale"

Note: Listen to the music here

Song Exploration

Opening Song:
"When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock"

All things considered, this type of musical needs a big boisterous number that prays in the church of rock. It only makes sense then that it's the most gloriously over the top and cornball piece of metal music out there. Then again, Andrew Lloyd Webber was a man unashamed to put heavy guitars into Jesus Christ Superstar. This has a heavy whiff of cheese floating off of it as the guitars hit those egotistical solos and singer Alex Brightman introduces his Jack Black impression where his passion is the main draw. You can't help but admire a man so in love with rock music, at least in this context. More than anything, it establishes the tone of the show so perfectly that even if it is a barrage of pastiche, it still works at capturing a mood.

"School of Rock (Teacher's Pet)"

This is what both the film and the stage version are building towards: the kids actually performing. On one hand, it is pretty cool to see kids rocking out with strong proficiency, and the album cut definitely captures an enthusiasm that plays well for the kids. However, this has always seemed more like another showcase for protagonist Dewey Finn, who sings the lead vocals and mostly gives the kids credit instead of actually letting them, you know, sing the song that they supposedly wrote. With that said, there's such a concrete focus on this track that's missing in the others that it's a shame that whoever wrote this soundtrack wasn't more in tune with the rock sound that this was going for. Still, it's a clever song that's a bit more clever than any of the new lyrics written for this show.

High Point:
"If Only You Would Listen"

To be totally honest, it's still confounding that Andrew Lloyd Webber, the man behind comparatively milquetoast shows like Cats and Evita, would take on a show so reliant on heavy metal-inspired songs. While there's no out and out dud on the soundtrack, it's telling that his best work is more in a classical vein, such as this one where the kids get to vent their frustration not with guitars and drums, but with their own personal feelings. It's also one of the better written and composed songs as a whole, as it actually feels like it has something to say besides Alex Brightman doing his cool dad shtick over the guitar solos. Here, there's actual emotion on display, even if it feels so cornball that it transcends genuine human emotion and goes to camp. I guess that's what you get with Webber, but this song more than proves why he shouldn't have done this show.

Low Point:

There's plenty that's obvious about the show. It's supposed to be about the freedom that rock music can have, especially when it existed more than three lifetimes ago for most of the supporting cast. As gleeful as the finale is supposed to be at making a hodgepodge of rocking melodies and comical insertions, it's all just a mess. It's supposed to be fun, but there's not much here that reflects positively on the show. Even the recurring motif that is "Stick It to the Man" is a good idea, but again was composed by Webber in such a cornball, cool dad kind of way that it's kind of embarrassing. The whole show is at odds with itself. It could've been better if a younger, hipper person wrote the music. Instead, this highlight reel continues anyone's belief that Webber is maybe best seen these days as a Paul F. Tompkins character than an actual virtuoso.

What Does It Bring to the Story?

For the most part, it just elevates what would work about a musical version of School of Rock. The most noteworthy is of course turning the soundtrack into something that rocks and has a lot of group participation. If nothing else, the show's sole value is that it feels like a great piece of propaganda to get kids into seeing music as something cool and accessible. In fact, the kids tend to have the best moments on the soundtrack because of how genuine their emotions are at discovering the expressive powers of rock music. There's not much else technically that is added to the show, save for a richer and more chaotic atmosphere. Still, it is pretty faithful to what a show like this would sound like, albeit with a few more quiet ballads than one would expect.

Was This Necessary?

This is a tough call at the end of the day, because the concept behind it has a lot of potential. It's a chance to get kids into Broadway theater in ways that aren't just cheap Disney productions. True, it's a bit vulgar in parts to ever make the high school scene, but in that regards it at least would give them an outlet for showing off their skills as musicians (arguably more than singers). However, there are a lot of better shows like that out there, and they all feel more genuine than this. Webber has a lot of clout behind him, but it will never not be weird that a man of his age and stature wrote the School of Rock musical, if just because of what's lost in getting someone younger and hipper to do it. Sure, the songs are good - but there's no real runaway hits that aren't in some ways borderline goofy and embarrassing. It's not a terrible show and does the film proud, but there's still a big question of why this needed to happen in the first place. 

Up Next: It's Halloween time, and it's time to get in the mood with a horror-themed entry. Whether it makes you scream or dance, it's sure to get your body moving. 

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