Why I'm Concerned for "School of Rock"

Anthony J. Piccione

A couple of months ago, I wrote a column entitled Why School of Rock Will Be Incredible. The title pretty much explains what the entire column was about. I had a short list of reasons that showed why I believed that this musical adaptation of one of my favorite comedies of all time would likely be one of the best musicals to open on Broadway within the next year or so. I was so sure of that when I first wrote the column.

But then, something happened.

Early Friday morning, on October 16th, I was flipping through the TV channels looking for something to watch as I woke up, and I turned on the Today Show. They were playing a few clips of the cast of this upcoming musical performing live in New York City. While the audience seemed to mostly be pleased with the performances, it has honestly caused me to be a bit more skeptical of this adaptation.

First of all, while the song that I heard playing was essentially the exact same as the one that played near the end of the film adaptation, the version included in the musical adaptation failed to meet the same musical standards that the 2003 film version had lived up to. I don’t know about you, but personally, when I go to see a show or a movie entitled School of Rock, I expect the music to rock the audience HARD. But to be clear, that wasn’t necessarily my biggest problem thus far with what I’ve seen.

The biggest problem with this show, in my opinion, is the casting. I’m sure some people will say I’m being too hard on the kids, and that I ought to be impressive with the fact that they are so musically talented for their age. But the truth is, LOTS of kids in the performing arts are just as talented – if not more so – than the kids that I watched on Friday morning. More to the point, while they may be talented musically, they did little to remind me of the young characters that I found enduring in the film adaptation, at least based on what I’ve seen thus far.

But the biggest casting flaw in this show, in my opinion, is Alex Brightman’s performance as Dewey Finn. This isn’t necessarily his fault. I’m not entirely sure that another Broadway performer could do much better in that role than he could. But from what I’ve seen thus far, I’m starting to wonder if maybe Jack Black’s performance in that role is so great and so memorable, that NO ACTOR could possibly fill those shoes.

This leads me to a much larger point, which is that maybe some of what I’ve just pointed out isn’t exactly the fault of the actors or musicians involved, but rather due to the fact that the whole idea of a School of Rock musical adaptation – while on paper, might have sounded like a good idea – wasn’t quite as workable as it seems, given how hard of a task it always would have been to live up to the original film. Or who knows? Perhaps someone other than Andrew Lloyd Webber could have done a better job adapting this film into a Broadway musical. Personally, I’m not sure. But I do know this…

Based on what I saw on Friday, this show looks like it is destined to be a colossal disappointment that will fail to live up to both the hype surrounding it, as well as the excellence of the 2003 that so many of us loved when we first saw it in movie theaters. I haven’t seen the whole show yet, so perhaps I could still be wrong. If I am wrong, then I promise not to write another column about this show again. However, I now have major doubts that this show will live up to the expectations that I once had for it.

This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione)

Photo: Alex Brightman (center) and the cast of "School of Rock — The Musical." Photo: Timmy Blupe. “

The Out-of-Town Tryout : A Thing of the Past?

Chris Peterson

This past spring, producers of a new musical adaptation of The Honeymooners, scrapped its premier run at the Goodspeed Opera House in CT because they felt the production is ready for Broadway. 

While I heavily doubt that, this move is just the latest in the growing trend of shows skipping an out-of-town tryout before opening on Broadway. 

Producers of Something Rotten! felt the same way about their piece and opened while the dirt was still settling over the Side Show revival. The risk paid off as that show has gone one to see great financial success as did Motown: The Musical and The Book of Mormon both of which also opened "cold" on Broadway. 

This coming year, School of Rock will be the latest to try their hand at opening directly in the belly of the beat rather than out of town. 

So the big question is why? 

Well beyond the confidence of the producers, money is always part of the discussion. The rate of trying out a show at a regional theatre isn't what it used to be. Producer Ken Davenport had this to say about that on his own blog, 

"The regional theaters have become wise to the “enhancement game,” and what used to be a price tag of $1mm to the show’s bottom line, can now easily cost $1.5mm to $2mm!  Add that to a workshop and readings and you’ve got a Broadway budget with close to $3mm in development costs, before you’ve stepped into the city."

Something Rotten!

Something Rotten!

Another reason why shows have traditionally opened out of town is to build positive buzz around the show. In many cases this works, but sometimes it works too well and have a negative effect on the Broadway run. Just ask producers of The Pirate Queen and The Little Mermaid, two productions that had exceptionally strong out of town runs before bombing on Broadway. Amazing Grace had two successful runs in CT and Chicago before its disastrous run in New York thus far. 

One trend that has been growing is opening shows closer in New York, this way producers can attract the same crowd and pay less for the transfer of the show. Places such as Boston, Connecticut and New Jersey, especially the Paper Mill Playhouse, have become desirable locations to open a show. Newsies premiered there to a rousing response that led to its transfer for New York as did A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder in CT. Sometimes it's best to open your tryout in New York itself, like Fun Home and Hamilton did at The Public to enormous success. 

But while producers may have a confidence in their productions' readiness for the Great White Way, let's not forget what the try out is really for, it's to test a show in front of a live audience to work out the kinks. Shows that skip this vital step are putting themselves as gigantic risk once the show opens, just ask Spider-Man

While I don't see the out of town tryout practice ending anytime soon, don't be surprised if you see more productions open directly in New York in the near future.

Why School of Rock Will Be Incredible

Anthony J. Piccione

When I was a kid, I had a dream that many others from my generation probably had when they were growing up, as well: That one day, one of our teachers would be out sick, and we would end up with a substitute teacher for the day…only to find out that it was Jack Black, and he was here to start a rock band with us. 

The reason I had this dream should be quite obvious to anyone who has good taste in movies. In 2003, the film School of Rock was released to both critical acclaim and commercial success. Today, in the minds of many people, it is considered to be a modern classic and one of the best comedies of the 21st century so far. So this should be a no-brainer, when it comes to understanding why it has been adapted into a Broadway musical that is scheduled to premiere later this year.

Alex Brightman (center) and the cast of "School of Rock — The Musical." Photo: Timmy Blupe

Alex Brightman (center) and the cast of "School of Rock — The Musical." Photo: Timmy Blupe

But the question remains: Will it be any good? Personally, I think there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic that the answer is “yes”.

Could there possibly be a better comedy over the past 15 years to adapt into a musical than this movie? When looking back at this movie and just how much fun it is, it’s almost as if it had been begging to be made into a Broadway musical. Since it takes place in a prep school classroom, it already has a ton of characters that could make for a great ensemble in a theatrical show. Plus, much of the humor and dialogue of the original film is perfect for a Broadway musical that would be entertaining for the whole family. If you ask me, nothing will ever replace the cast of the original movie. But I still think that, if the right actors are cast in this show, they can still turn in a highly entertaining performance that delivers that same kind of humor, and is as worthy of a tribute to the 2003 film as anyone can possibly get. 

However, the most noteworthy factor of all – in terms of knowing whether or not this show will be great – is the fact that music plays a HUGE role in the original film. Now I can’t say that I know for certain what all the musical numbers will be like in this show, as I have yet to even see any previews of the actual show. But right now, when it comes to speculating what music could be incorporated into the show, I can already picture how some classic rock music (Maybe I’m just getting too wishful here, but I would personally love to one day see a musical that heavily featured some AC/DC music) could easily be incorporated into a musical like this. There are also plenty of original songs from the film that will inevitably be part of the musical adaptation, as well. For the sake of originality and freshness, there are also some original songs that will be added as well. If you ask me, it is the area of music where I think this show has the most potential, and I think could easily make this the most entertaining musical on Broadway by the end of 2015.

Also, I might add one more thing: I’m not sure if there’s anyone out there who thinks that this could be a commercial failure and close early on Broadway. But to those people, I have three words for you: Andrew. Lloyd. Webber. I know plenty of people who love his work, and also some people who detest the man. But you can’t deny his success in past Broadway musical endeavors. (How many years has Phantom been running on Broadway, again?) Something tells me that this will be a show that is here to stay, as it is not only based off one of the best comedies of the 2000s, but also because I can’t think of too many other living musical composers who could do a better job adapting this film for the stage.

Some will argue that – like many other musical adaptations of past material – this will be either a blockbuster that is lacking in originality at best or a colossal failure at worst. But if ask me, all of these factors seem to be an indicator that this upcoming School of Rock musical will not be those things. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, and I’ll regret writing this article by the beginning of next year. But so far, it sounds like this will turn out to be a hard-rocking, fun-filled spectacle that – like the original film – will leave audiences with a contagious case of “stick-it-to-the-man-eosis”. Personally, if it’s even slightly close to being as entertaining as the film version was, then I can already say that this will soon be at the top of my list of must-see Broadway musicals within the next year or so.