Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new, ultra-fun musical “School of Rock,” an adaptation of the 2003 film of the same name, is shaping up to be a must-watch. The easygoing production features a bedraggled ex-rocker teaching a class of private school students to find the rockstar within. It’s about a group of children constrained by their parents’ expectations, who need to break free from the monotony of their everyday lives. Though sometimes a little trite, the legendary Broadway composer’s new project offers an incredibly enjoyable experience.
The new musical’s standout feature is the average age of its performers: indeed, about half of the “School of Rock” cast is still in elementary or middle school. The cast list is overflowing with young, incredibly talented faces. Evie Dolan, for instance, who plays Katie in the show, is a sixth grader in New York City who plays bass, guitar, ukulele, mandolin, and saxophone. Brandon Niederauer, playing Zack, is a guitar prodigy who appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” at the age of ten. Jersey Sullivan, playing James, is a self-described young L.A. rocker who plays the drums, guitar, bass, and piano. In addition to their instrumental skills, these young performers also possess the Broadway-required expertise in song, dance, and acting–and sometimes, they’re athletes too.
To me, “School of Rock” exemplifies rising expectations in the field of theater–none the less because it features such young performers. No longer is it sufficient to be a “triple threat,” an expert in singing, dancing, and acting. Now, more and more productions are requiring its cast to add knowing how to play multiple instruments to the list. Such was the case for Once, the hit Broadway production whose performers were always playing one instrument or another. There are many other examples pointing towards this tendency: “Cabaret,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Company;” all required some sort of musical proficiency. It seems that the theatre is asking more of its aspiring performers, and that the “quadruple threat” requirement is hitting younger performers the hardest. “School of Rock,” where most of the under-twelve cast has accomplished more than many adults could ever hope for, embodies this trend.