BY TAMARA BECK
THE best education instills a passion for learning and, exploring.
In "School of Rock: The Musical," at the Winter Garden Theatre through 31 March, history lessons are replaced by a passionate exploration of the history of hard rock.
Closely following the Mike White-written, Jack Black vehicle from Paramount, "School of Rock" the musical has a book by Julian Fellowes and additional music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber with lyrics by Glenn Slater.
The teacher is Dewey (Jonathan Wagner, one of several stand-ins for Alex Brightman), masquerading as his friend and roommate Ned (Spencer Moses). Dewey assumes Ned's gig as a substitute at the prestigious Horace Green School out of pure necessity: Patty (Mamie Parris), Ned's girlfriend, threatens to evict him.
Initially interested only in the paycheck, and getting the kids to go to "recess," Dewey blossoms into an unconventional educator. He forms a plan to harness his students' prodigious musical talents to help him climb "Mount Rock," as one of the songs in "School of Rock: The Musical" puts it.
Horace Green is an expensive private school with an uptight vibe, personified by the head mistress, Rosalie (Sierra Boggess). It also courses through the teachers' breakroom, parents and even the student body.
Rosalie disapproves of Dewey's unorthodox methods. His colleagues envy his success and popularity with his students.
Soon enough, Dewey gets his 10-year-old charges rockin', converting them to his rad ways. The audience, however, is almost instantly sold on his charming idiosyncracies.
The junior cast is exceptional – every one of them. Trading their instruments for the amplified rock versions, the kids of "School of Rock: The Musical" steal the show.
Alex Brightman, Dante Melucci and Evie Dolan in "School of Rock: The Musical."
Summer Hathaway (Isabella Russo), an organized and focused little girl, takes to her band manager duties with pizazz. Zack (Brandon Niederauer) plugs in his guitar and rivals Dewey at composing. The drummer, Freddy (Dante Melucci), shines in Dewey's band as he never could in the school's classical ensemble. Katie (Evie Dolan) assumes a hard-rock persona and strums with passion and fire.
The adult ensemble is to a large extent a cosmetic consideration; this is the Dewey and the kids' show. Nevertheless, Laurence Connor directs the whole cast to great effect.
Alex Brightman and the kids rock out.
Through Joann M. Hunter's rock-centric choreography, children and adults show off some terrific moves. The scenic designs and costumes by Ann Louizos seamlessly fit into a milieu that constantly shifts between conventional and radical.
What have we learned in "School..."? Passion and commitment rock. of Rock.
Visit http://www.schoolofrockthemusical.com/to learn more about "School of Rock: The Musical."