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Andrew Lloyd Webber Says Music Empowers In 'School Of Rock'

Dec 7, 2015
Originally published on December 29, 2015 8:16 pm

Two members of the British House of Lords have written a show about a scruffy American rocker who can't pay his rent and turns a bunch of school kids into a rock 'n' roll band. Sound familiar? That's the story of School of Rock, the 2003 film that made Jack Black a star. School of Rock, the musical written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Julian Fellowes, opened Sunday night on Broadway.

Lloyd Webber, composer of Phantom of the Opera and Cats, wrote the first successful rock opera — Jesus Christ Superstar — when he was just 22 years old. (He remembers that while they were recording Superstar, Led Zeppelin was making an album in the studio next door.) Lloyd Webber calls himself a "child of that time" and says the music of that era informs what he wrote for School of Rock.

"School of Rock is fun," he says. "Hopefully, I've fleshed it out with a few catchy songs and kept the spirit of the original movie. Hopefully, it's something that you will go to and say, 'I had a really good time,' but hopefully, you will also take out of it the central message of the story, which is a very warm and very simple one, which is about the empowering force of music."

The creative team has fleshed out the characters of the children and their relationship with their parents, says Downton Abbey creator Lord Julian Fellowes.

"I think we've defined the other children rather more than in the film, and given them a situation and given them problems," Fellowes says. "So we know, I think slightly more clearly, the effect that [Jack Black's character] Dewey is having on them and having on their lives."

These days, with such hit musicals as Annie and Matilda, seeing kids who can act and dance and sing is nothing particularly new, but seeing them actually play their instruments may be the show's biggest appeal, says Lloyd Webber.

"I mean, it's extraordinary for their age just how great they are. ..." he says. "You close your eyes and you'd say "Oh gosh, this is a band that's played together for three or four years.' You wouldn't really think that they're, you know, 10 and 11 year olds!"

Evie Dolan, 11, plays Katie, the band's bass guitarist — but that wasn't the instrument she set out to play.

"I went into the audition, auditioning with my ukulele," she says. "And then, at the next audition, they asked me to bring my bass. And I've never touched a bass or seen a bass. And my dad went to Guitar Center, I got the bass and I learned it. And I think I'm better now!"

Lloyd Webber takes kids and music seriously. He runs a foundation in England that has provided 3,000 disadvantaged schoolchildren free violins and training. And he's doing something unthinkable for a show that's just opened on Broadway. He's making School of Rock available for school groups to license and perform early next year, while the show is still running in New York.

"Every school has got a Dewey, every school has got somebody who could be the head mistress. All those characters are there. And, above all, every school has got children!"

And, Lloyd Webber adds, he plans to go to California to see the first school production next March.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Now the story of even newer kids on the musical block, middle school students learning to play rock from a scruffy substitute teacher who can't pay his rent - sound familiar? It's the story of "School Of Rock," the 2003 film that made Jack Black a star. Jeff Lunden reports on the team that's taken it to Broadway, including two members of the British House of Lords.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Alex Brightman, the actor who plays Dewy Finn, the Jack Black character, says there's a joke going around backstage.

ALEX BRIGHTMAN: When you think "School Of Rock," you think of one name - Julian Fellowes, the man who created "Downton Abbey." But it totally worked because Andrew Lloyd Webber and Julian Fellowes - they are collaborative dudes, and they're creative. And it doesn't matter how old you are or what you've done.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "SCHOOL OF ROCK")

BRIGHTMAN: (As Dewey Finn, singing)When the world has screwed you and crushed you in its fist, when the way you're treated has got you good and pissed, there's been one solution since the world began. Don't just sit and take it. Stick it to the man.

LUNDEN: What you might forget is that Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer of "Phantom Of The Opera" and "Cats," wrote the first successful rock opera when he was just 22 years old - "Jesus Christ Superstar."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR")

MURRAY HEAD: (As Judas Iscariot, singing) Jesus, you started to believe the things they said of you. You really do believe this talk of God is true.

LUNDEN: Lloyd Webber calls himself a child of that time.

ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER: When we recorded "Superstar," the next-door studio, through the time we were doing that, Led Zepplin were making an album.

LUNDEN: And the music of that era informs what he wrote for "School Of Rock."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "SCHOOL OF ROCK")

BRIGHTMAN: (As Dewey Finn) You, Zack. You ever play electric guitar?

BRANDON NIEDERAUER: (As Zack) No. My dad won't let me.

BRIGHTMAN: (As Dewey Finn) Oh, really?

BRANDON: (As Zack) He thinks it's a waste of time.

BRIGHTMAN: (As Dewey Finn) Oh yeah? Well, let's waste that time together, shall we? (Singing) Take a hold of your axe, and try to pluck out this riff.

LUNDEN: Lloyd Webber says he thinks of the show as entertainment with a message.

LLOYD WEBBER: Look; "School Of Rock" is fun. Hopefully I've fleshed it out with a few catchy songs and kept the spirit of the original movie. Hopefully it's something that you will go to and say I had a really good time. But hopefully, you will also take out of it the central message of the story, which is a very warm and very simple one, which is about the empowering force of music.

LUNDEN: And the effect it has on kids. So the creative team has fleshed out the characters of the children and their relationship with their parents, says Lord Julian Fellowes.

JULIAN FELLOWES: I think we've defined the children rather more than the film and given them a situation and given them problems so we know, I think slightly more clearly, the effect that Dewey is having on them and having on their lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "SCHOOL OF ROCK")

BRANDON: (As Zack, singing) You always talk, talk, talk all the time, never let me get in a word. I wish I had, I had a dime for every thought I've swallowed unheard. No matter what it is that I do, it's like I just can't seem to get through.

EVIE DOLAN: (As Katie, singing) I've got so much to say if only you would listen.

LUNDEN: These days, with such hit musicals such as "Annie" and "Matilda," seeing kids who can act and dance and sing is nothing particularly new. But seeing them actually play their instruments may be the show's biggest appeals, says Andrew Lloyd Webber.

LLOYD WEBBER: I mean, it's extraordinary for their age just how great they are and how, you know, together they play. I mean, you close your eyes and you'd say, oh, gosh, this is a band that's played together for three or four years. You wouldn't think that they're, you know, 10- and 11-year-olds.

LUNDEN: Eleven-year-old Evie Dolan plays Katie, band's bass guitarist.

EVIE: I went into the audition auditioning on my ukulele. And then the next audition, they asked me to bring my bass, and I've never touched a bass or seen a bass. And my dad went to Guitar Center and got the bass, and I learned it. And I think I'm better now (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSCIAL, "SCHOOL OF ROCK")

BRIGHTMAN: (As Dewey Finn) You, what is your name?

EVIE: (As Katie) Katie.

BRIGHTMAN: (As Dewey Finn) Katie, (singing) turn a cello this way, and it's practically like a bass. Pop the strings when you play and watch how you shred my face. Whoa, somebody find my face. She's shredding it off. Oh, no, it's right here.

LUNDEN: Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber takes kids and music seriously. He runs a foundation in England which has provided 3,000 disadvantaged schoolchildren free violins and training. And he's doing something unthinkable for a show that's just opened on Broadway. He's making "School Of Rock" available for school groups to license and perform early next year while the show is still running in New York.

LLOYD WEBBER: Every school has got a Dewey. Every school has got somebody who could be the headmistress. All those characters are there, and above all, every school has got children.

LUNDEN: And, Lloyd Webber adds, he plans to go to California to see the first school production next March. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "SCHOOL OF ROCK")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As Character, singing) Oh, you know I'm on a roll. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.