Early version of School Of Rock musical for select group

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It has been a long time since he rock 'n' rolled, but Andrew Lloyd Webber has a new rock musical he is about to try out at a well-known Manhattan club and you will have to be on the right list if you want to get past the bouncers to see it.

Last Friday, he sent out an e-mail to a selected group of audience members, inviting them to the Gramercy Theatre to see an early version of School Of Rock, his new musical adapted from the 2003 Jack Black comedy.

"Someone up there in cyberspace has intimated that you might be interested in an invitation to a rather unusual theatre event," he writes. "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."

He is, of course, best known as the composer whose resume includes monolithic musicals such as Phantom Of The Opera, Cats and Evita. But he has never turned up his nose at an electric guitar, whether in works such as Jesus Christ Superstar, his prog-rock retelling of the final days of Jesus, or his concept album Variations, which put a rock 'n' roll spin on the classical composer Paganini.

He said these occasional performances of School Of Rock were a way to recapture some of the spontaneity that went into shows such as Superstar.

School Of Rock, which is directed by Laurence Connor (Les Miserables) and is expected to open at the Winter Garden Theatre in December, stars Alex Brightman as a substitute teacher who turns a class of prep-school students into his personal rock combo for an all-important battle of the bands.

The score includes three songs from the original film, which was written by Mike White and directed by Richard Linklater, as well as about 12 new songs composed by Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Glenn Slater (Tangled, Sister Act).

Its book is by Julian Fellowes, creator and writer of Downton Abbey.

The cast, in both its concert and Broadway incarnations, will also feature rock bands consisting of school-age performers who were recruited at open casting calls earlier this year.

Among the child performers he has encountered in the United States, Lloyd Webber observed that "playing live is in the American DNA", whereas in his native Britain, he said "the kids who are into music are much more into the technology of it".

"I haven't come across, in Britain, a lot of kids playing 1970s and 1980s rock," he said. But in America, he added: "They're all into Led Zeppelin and Earth, Wind & Fire, all of that."

Asked how the audience members for these Gramercy Theatre performances were chosen, he said they had been selected from databases compiled by the Shubert Organization and the Nederlander Organization, the powerful theatre companies who each "assure me that their database is so brilliant", he said.

He concluded the e-mail to his invited guests with the phrase, "May the Spirit of Rock be with you".

But more important, he said: "I want a bit of feedback. We want to know whether it's actually any good. We may think it's great, fun and everything. And they might all sit there stony-faced and say, 'What's all this?'"

 
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