The Broadway show “School of Rock – the Musical,” coming to Fort Lauderdale for a two-week run, is all due to kids.
No, not the child actors in the musical comedy about a rock-star hopeful who poses as a substitute teacher at a tony private school and turns straight-A, fifth-grade students into head-banging rock musicians. The reason that the production exists is because of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s children. They’re the ones who showed the 2003 movie (starring Jack Black, Joan Cusack and Sarah Silverman) to their mother, Madeleine Lloyd Webber, an executive at Andrew’s theater-production company Really Useful Group.
“I just loved everything, every single bit of it,” Madeleine Lloyd Webber, the executive producer of “School of Rock – the Musical,” recalls in a telephone interview from her office in London. “It was 2004, 2005, so I was a bit late, but I totally fell in love with the characters, the story, that every single character was empowered and improved by music. I went to my husband and said, ‘You’ve got to work with this hilarious, charming film.’ And he watched it. I immediately thought it was a stage musical … but the question became if this were a musical, would additional music add to it?”
Webber also remembers asking if her husband — despite his successes with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Evita,” “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera” — was the right man for the job.
“He thought that maybe he was not rock-y enough for it,” she says. “But he really enjoyed writing a rock score again after such a long time, going all the way back to ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ Some films that are made into musicals, the music doesn’t add to it. It’s sort of pointless. But I thought this would add to it, would improve it. There’s no point to do anything unless you improve it.”
Nominated for four Tony Awards, the show lost in every one of its categories to the phenomenon “Hamilton.” “School of Rock” is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most recent musical, bowing on Broadway in 2015 and in the West End a year later. The lyrics for his score were written by Glenn Slater (“Sister Act,” “Disney’s the Little Mermaid”), and the book was written by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey,” “Gosford Park”). Incidentally, Fellowes and Andrew, both Brits, were created life peers as barons by Queen Elizabeth, so Lady Madeleine Lloyd Webber is a baroness.
Here is more from our interview with Madeleine Lloyd Webber.
What was it that made you immediately think the movie should be put on the stage?
The idea of prepubescent children playing instruments live onstage was too delicious not to contemplate.
How do you go from the idea to executing it? What happened after you had that picture in your head of kids playing instruments live onstage?
That [process] started in 2006 … getting the rights. The head of Paramount at the time was a gentleman named Brad Grey. I wrote to him every year for six years. I was a dog with a bone. I must have driven him mad in the end. That went on, back and forth, until 2012. He assigned the rights to me probably not because he wanted to, but just to get me to leave him alone. That is the lesson for everyone: Keep trying. No doesn’t mean no.
I’m not sure I know what an executive producer for a stage musical does?
That’s a very good question. I have no idea. They have to be very good at delegating … and putting a great team together of very talented people.
You really have to love the project, though, don’t you, in order to stay with it all those years?
This is a show so dear to my heart. I still find the film and the musical totally charming. I’ve seen it 30 or 40 times, and I still find it funny, which is sad, really. Without that brilliant screenplay, it wouldn’t have happened. We kept all the great Jack Black lines. It’s a genius little film. Their characterizations are fantastic, and the use of music is fantastic.
The show played Broadway at the Winter Garden, which is a huge stage and needed a big set. Then, it played in the West End at the New London Theatre, which is a smaller stage and in the round, calling for a more intimate production. So what set is on the road tour?
The set for the tour is the best bits of both. I think I must say that the best set I’ve seen is the one on the road. I saw it in Rochester and Chicago and that is the set that will go around the world, Australia, China, Japan, Germany and every where else the film was big. Unlike most theater tours, which are an apology of the original, I would put this one back in on Broadway.
Why did you premiere the show in New York rather than in London like the rest of your shows?
Because it is an American story about an American set of kids and we really wanted to keep it authentic. Andrew wanted to write an authentic rock score, and he had an American lyricist. It’s an American film, and he felt it should open … have its world premiere on Broadway. It’s quite hard to not have the opening in your hometown. But he felt very, very strong that he didn’t want British kids doing American accents. Now on tour, we have fantastic kids. There’s an authenticity about it. In a way, he probably looked back at “Sunset Boulevard.” That was always his thinking, that we should have opened that in America first. Maybe since it was set in Hollywood he always thought it should have opened with Glenn Close in L.A. and not fiddled around with London first.
What is the pitch for seeing this show here in South Florida?
The music, I think, is why you can take kids from 6 years old to granddads to the show. It’s really one of those all-age musicals, like “The Sound of Music” or “My Fair Lady” or like “The Lion King.” It … has plenty for adults. It’s one of the few musicals dads and husbands who have been dragged to a musical will love — hand on heart these men will love this show.
“School of Rock – the Musical” runs Dec. 12-24 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17; 2 p.m. matinee Saturdays and Wednesday, Dec. 20; and 1 p.m. matinee Sundays. Tickets cost $30-$160. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.