Yes, the children play their own instruments, Andrew Lloyd Webber assures us in a voice-over at the top of “School of Rock: The Musical,” a highly enjoyable and heartwarming adaptation of the 2003 Jack Black film with a book by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”) and direction by Laurence Connor (the Broadway revival of “Les Miz”).
Essentially a modern version of “The Music Man,” it charts how out-of-work musician Dewey Finn (Alex Brightman) lands a gig as a substitute teacher at a snobby prep school and turns his class into a garage band, giving the children self-confidence in the process. Watching it, you can’t help but wish that Dewey had taken over your own grade school class for a few weeks.
Before becoming identified with quasi-operatic bombast, Lloyd Webber rose to prominence with the rock score to “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Although occasionally serviceable and sappy, “School of Rock” contains his best music in a very long time, bursting with excitement more often than not. “Teacher’s Pet,” a catchy song from the film, is also included.
Brightman comes off as a gentler version of Jack Black, though still loud and rambunctious and a genuine class clown. Sierra Boggess (“Phantom,” “The Little Mermaid”) has less to work with as the stiff school principal, but scores once her character is encouraged by Dewey to loosen up.
The dozen or so children are wildly talented and absolutely adorable. I dare you not to smile as they stomp around and chant that they will “stick it to the man.”
Any Broadway musical that opens this season is bound to be in the shadow of “Hamilton.” “School of Rock” may not be a game-changer, but it is a solid, well-structured musical comedy, and you can never have enough of those.
In a highly unusual move, the amateur performance rights to the musical are already being released. If not on Broadway, you may soon find yourself seeing “School of Rock” at a school near you.
If you go: “School of Rock: The Musical” plays an open run at the Winter Garden Theatre. 1634 Broadway. SchoolOfRockTheMusical.com.