In past summers, Andrew Lloyd Webber has invited a select group of friends to his Sydmonton estate for a festival of works-in-progress by Andrew Lloyd Webber. But with his adaptation of the 2003 Jack Black-starring film slated to begin previews in November at the Shubert-owned Winter Garden Theatre, he’s changed tack. Several hundred carefully culled strangers will get to pre-preview the show beginning next week at at Manhattan’s Gramercy Theatre, where the musical will be presented in a series of low-tech staged concerts.
The gambit is Lord Lloyd Webber’s way of acknowledging what’s become well-known to producers over the last decade or more: By the time shows — especially musicals — get to the previews stage, they’re so hi-tech and physically elaborate that major changes are nearly impossible to make. So the composer engaged two of his lead producers — the competing Shubert and Nederlander theater-owning companies — to cull their extensive databases for frequent buyers, and the selected ones were invited Friday by email to attend one in a series of performances slated to begin next week and, a spokesman for the show told Deadline, extend into the summer months.
The move also has the added benefit of possibly stealing some of the thunder from the Broadway opening of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, which is transferring after a sold-out run at the Public Theater and is enjoying a juggernaut of praise and anticipation.
School Of Rock is being staged by Laurence Connor (the current revival of Les Misérables), choreographed by JoAnn Hunter and stars Alex Brightman in the Black role of a substitute teacher who turns his preppie prep-school students into a battle-worthy band.
“Dear Theatregoer,” Lloyd Webber’s e-missive reads. “Someone up there in cyberspace intimated that you might be interested in an invitation to a rather unusual theatre event.” He relates the fact that he obtained the rights to the Richard Linklater film and rights to songs from the movie, and has written more with lyricist Glenn Slater and a script by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. “The very first incarnation of School Of Rock will be a staged, actually highly staged, concert at the Gramercy Theatre for just a few performances…I hope you’ll come to the Gramercy and join us on our voyage of discovery. I think you’ll get a kick out of being among the first to see this talented cast perform our brand-new show.”
In an interview with the Times Of London, Lloyd Webber recently said he’d been deeply impressed by the guitar-playing skills of young people trying out for the show. He told the New York Times, which first ran the story about the Gramercy performances earlier today, that “playing live is in the American DNA…I haven’t come across, in Britain, a lot of kids playing ’70s and ’80s rock.” As added enticement, the email included a photograph of Mika, Lloyd Webber’s cat, in front of a mock-up of the planned exterior of the Winter Garden, where a certain feline-centered show once ran then-and-forever.