Those of you who are longtime subscribers to http://www.viewinthedark.com know by now that I don’t generally follow the rules of good blogging. If I expect to garner many more readers, I’m supposed to make entries at least weekly. But damn it, life has a way of getting in the way. So, dear readers, a big thank you for your patience. More on that later, but first I want to talk about School of Rock, the Musical.
At least half the young people I know went to see the 2003 hit movie starring Jack Black and a host of kids. I did not. I am not a fan of rock music. Of course there was a time when I bumped and swayed like everybody else, and was impressed enough to sing along with the late Chuck Berry and his descendants. But it was a relatively mild fascination, and far from the passionate obsession my friends were exhibiting. I realize that saying that out loud could get me thrown out of town, and I may have just alienated half my readership, but there you have it. I’m supposed to be honest in these pages.
Friends have been telling me for years, “What? You haven’t seen School of Rock yet? Get off your high horse and go rent it! You’ll love it!” I never got around to it. School of Rock, the Musical, has been running for over a year, and I’d never been particularly tempted, always choosing the “meatier” (and quieter) fare instead. But now, I figured maybe in my friends’ eyes I could get away with seeing the Broadway musical instead of the movie. And after all, I’m the Broadway type, and I love to see talented kids on stage. So in December, finally in the mood for some mindless escapism, armed with earplugs and spurred on by some attractive discount offers, I went!
As predicted by everyone but me, I loved it! So much for my own prejudices and ignorance. It’s about a failed rock band member who masquerades as a substitute teacher at Horace Green Prep School, full of juvie rebels, brats and stuffy know-it-alls. Leave it to Dewey to scrounge up some band instruments and provide his 4th graders with a whole new means of expression. Despite the objections of the uptight parents and school administration , he turns the kids into a contest-winning rock-and-roll sensation! Surprise? All the rebels are vindicated, family life is restored, Dewey falls in love, and everybody goes home happy. So no, you can’t really expect a surprise here. This is the ultimate in predictble story drivel. …BUT it doesn’t really matter, and THAT is the surprise. I found much to love about the show, beginning with the extraordinarily high energy levels and sincerity of everyone involved as they pushed the story along.
We’re getting serious now, in the midst of all that fun. Turns out, it’s not mindless at all, but instead makes a very cogent case for music education in our schools and communities. It offers the opportunity to develop communication skills, pride, identity, work ethic, commitment, passion, dedication and downright joy so essential to our growing up as whole human beings.
As a longtime “arts” teacher myself – never mind that Dewey is a reasonably bodacious fool, I was quickly won over by his antics and passionate belief in the power of the arts to change lives for the better. I was substantially helped along in that regard by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who saw the movie, determined it had to become a Broadway Musical, and wrote 14 very catchy new songs for it. … And by Glenn Slater, who wrote the lyrics, and by Julian Fellowes, who wrote the book (having finally put his Downton Abbey to rest).
I’ve heard that the primary focus of the film is on Dewey’s story. I don’t suppose you’re allowed to put Jack Black in a movie and then upstage him with a flock of adorable kids. The Dewey in my matinee performance, was played by Merritt David Janes, instead of the top-billed Eric Petersen. I’m pretty confident that both play the role equally well, but from my own experience, given Janes’ enormous energy expenditure, it would be hard to top him.
In School of Rock, the Musical. There are no big names or stars on stage, where we are clearly more concerned with the outrageous talents of the youngsters as much or more than the teacher. They come in all sizes, shapes and colors, united in the sheer joy of playing this music. No matter which instrument or voice, you can be sure it is being played and sung live by the kids themselves. No sound dubbing or lip-syncing here. Sure I was grateful for my earplugs, but I can put up with whining electric guitars and wild drums, etc. when it comes from kids exploring their passion for creativity in a live, safe environment.
Did I say “no superstars” in describing this cast? Let me amend that: No superstars … yet! Check out these examples on You Tube, just for starters, and they’re only a fraction of the December, 2016, New York contingent: Ruth Righi, (age 9), the Sullivan brothers, Jersey and Walden, and the absolutely phenomenal guitarist, Brandon Niederauer, who comes from some mysterious inner space … See what I mean? I predict these young folks are going places. In addition to practice, their academic work and sports, voice and dance training, etc., they put in a minimum of five high-energy performances a week. Mighty impressive! Many of them have already moved over to the London cast. I suspect there is pretty generous cast movement between the two. May they ALL stay as safe and wonderful as they are now, and may they see their dreams fulfilled. Not an easy task in America today.
Here in Charlottesville, as in most cities of our time, there is a wonderful contingent of musicians to be found busking on the Downtown Mall, and some who can no longer afford their instruments. I was passing by one such man yesterday who was soliciting funds for a night in the shelter, I overheard him say to his friend, “That’s all right. Some day, I’m gettin’ out of this sh*t, and I’m going back to my game.“ And I immediately wondered, “What was this man’s dream when he was ten year’s old?”