When it comes to the business of stage, Andrew Lloyd Webber is an old-school kind of composer. Technology has made tweaking a production not just about new lines and blocking, but a million technological changes. And frankly, he’s not making “School of Rock: The Musical” to put on a computerized spectacular — he’s in it for love of music, and that’s the kind of people he’s looking for to fill the seats for four intimate sneak previews of the new show next month.
Webber’s team, Really Useful Group, sent out a personal invitation on Friday from the man himself, in he calls the four shows, taking place next week at Gramercy Theatre, “a highly staged concert” with “minimal sets so that we can work on, and hopefully perfect, the material.”
Because rock ‘n’ roll is about a musician and his instrument, guys, not staring into the digital abyss:
“[T]he demands of an automated set and sophisticated lighting mean that a myriad of computers have to be reprogrammed before you can begin to make changes. It is a process that makes a Friday night stint on the Long Island Expressway seem action packed. I thought that our cast of talented musical kids, all itching to play real live music, might lose the will to live if they were put through this, let alone the rest of us.”
Webber is composing additional new music with lyrics by Glenn Slater (“Sister Act”) for the Broadway version of the Jack Black movie about a rock star-turned-teacher who inspires his students to make music (his role will be played by Alex Brightman ("Wicked"). Also onboard is Julian Fellows, the writer of “Downton Abbey” — and if that means this production will get a sassy British matriarch, we’re already onboard.
Though the show will have a period of official previews — its run will begin at the Winter Garden Theatre on Nov. 2, with opening night set for Dec. 6 — these four performances are meant to get direct feedback from the audience. “We want to get a genuine feel of what's wrong and maybe find we've got a few things right,” Webber writes.
The “Phantom of the Opera” composer has checked his baggage at the door for these intimate previews, and he asks those who attend do the same:
“The marketing department wants me to list all the Oscars, Tonys, Emmys, etc. that our team has won, but I am not going to as it hasn't got the slightest relevance as to whether or not we've done justice to the movie. It's you who'll give us a clue about that, as we give you the preview equivalent of going back to vinyl.”
He signed the letter, in Obi-Wan fashion, “May the Spirit of Rock be with you.” And because he knows the currency of the Internet, the P.S. is a photo of his cat, a Turkish Van named Mika. If this letter is anything to go by, Webber’s already got things pretty well figured out.
“School of Rock: The Musical”
June 3, 4, 5 at 7:30 p.m.
June 6 at 2 p.m.
Gramercy Theatre, 127 E. 23rd St.