School of Rock – The Musical comes to Music City’s TPAC

The cast of School of Rock.

Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber’s high-octane Broadway and West End hit School of Rock – The Musical comes to Nashville for a one-week engagement Sept. 11-16 at TPAC’s Jackson Hall. Based on the 2003 hit film, School of Rock – The Musical is a hilarious new musical that follows Dewey Finn, a failed, wannabe rock star who decides to earn a few extra bucks by posing as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school.

There he turns a class of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. While teaching these pintsized prodigies what it means to truly rock, Dewey falls for the school’s beautiful, but uptight headmistress, helping her rediscover the wild child within.

School of Rock – The Musical opened on Broadway to rave reviews on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015. Andrew Lloyd Webber (ALW), composer of such megahits as The Phantom of the Opera and Cats, wants audiences to have a “really good time” at his newest show, an unabashed musical comedy.

“Hopefully, I’ve fleshed it out with a few catchy songs and kept the spirit of the original movie,” Webber says. “Hopefully you will also take out of it the central message of the story – which is a very warm and very simple one – the empowering force of music.”

ALW along with book writer Julian Fellowes, lyricist Glenn  Slater and director Laurence Connor have taken Richard Linklater’s 2003 film – which made Jack Black a star – and given it new life onstage. Onstage, the adaptation features a not-so-secret sauce; the kids actually play their musical instruments. And they do it very well!

The cast of School of Rock perform a scene from the play.

“There is something very moving about that,” says Julian Fellowes. “I mean, you art sort of half moved to tears, simply by the fact that they’re playing this music.” ALW adds, “You wouldn’t really think that they’re 10 and 11-year-olds! I mean, it’s extraordinary for their age, just how great they are, and how together they play.”

The young actors’ musical skills are showcased several times in the show in exuberant rock numbers like “You’re in the Band” and “Stick it to the Man”, and one song retained from the movie, “Teacher’s Pet”.

The idea for the musical came from ALW’s wife Madeleine, who purchased the rights to the film. “I thought maybe it was something that we would flesh out with existing rock songs because there were a few in the original movie,” ALW says. But on closer inspection, he realized there wasn’t that much music in the film. So, he started looking for places where he could add songs.

“I saw a couple of moments in the movie where I thought I could, my next port of call was to talk to a major dramatist because when you’re dealing with a very successful film, which has got a life of its own,” says ALW, “I really wanted to talk to somebody who also has had a major career in film. And Julian Fellowes, who I know has also written for theater, was a very obvious choice because he’s a real craftsman.”

Luckily, the creator of Downton Abbey and fellow member of the House of Lords knew and loved the film. “I thought all of it; script, everything was terrific,” says Fellowes. “Sometimes you have to talk yourself into things to see if you want to do it. But I knew I wanted to do it straight away.”

Over a two-year process, Fellowes and his collaborators worked on bringing more depth to the story, without losing the comedy. In particular, fleshing out the roles of the children and their parents. “I think it makes the children’s parts a little more interesting to play,” says Fellowes. “They are all more defined as characters,”

Webber says he discovered his love of music and theater at about the age of the kids in the show, so School of Rock represents a coming home, of sorts. His first big hit was the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar which he wrote when he was just 22. “When we recorded Superstar, Led Zeppelin were in the next door studio making an album,” he says. “And the lead singer of Deep Purple was our Jesus on the original soundtrack. Coming back to doing this wasn’t a huge leap for me.”