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The commodity musical, that parasitical genre in which Hollywood hits of the relatively recent past are repurposed for profit by turning them into paint-by-the-numbers big-budget Broadway shows, is the worst thing to happen to American musical comedy since maybe ever. But theater has no rules, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be theoretically possible to write a good commodity musical, just as there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be possible for Andrew Lloyd Webber to write another blockbuster. Hence “School of Rock,” Baron Lloyd-Webber’s new stage version of Richard Linklater’s amiable 2003 screen comedy about a failed guitarist who redeems himself by teaching uptight fourth-graders how to play rock and roll. Turning “School of Rock” into a musical isn’t the worst idea in the world, and if you need a safe, undemanding show to take your baby-boom parents to see over the holidays, it’ll do perfectly fine—but if that sounds like lukewarm praise, it is.
The perfectly-fine-butness starts with Alex Brightman, the star, who is lively and likable but lacks the belligerent, shambling charm of Jack Black, whose performance went a long way toward making the movie worth seeing. The book is by Julian Fellowes, the “Downton Abbey” man, who has stuck slavishly to Mike White’s “School of Rock” screenplay, updating it with trivial references to Botox, gluten intolerance and gay marriage and hiking the annual tuition at Horace Green Prep from $15,000 to $50,000, which sounds about right. The only difference is that Mr. Fellowes’ version isn’t funny…
“The Color Purple,” first seen on Broadway ten years ago, is now being revived there in a brand-new production directed by John Doyle and imported from the Menier Chocolate Factory, one of London’s trendiest venues. Any way you stage it, the musical version of the film version of Alice Walker’s novel is an exercise in treacly feel-good sentimentality, but Mr. Doyle’s scaled-down, ruthlessly cut version makes the best possible case for “The Color Purple.” He has turned it into a concert-style let-us-tell-you-a-story show whose only set pieces are wooden chairs and woven baskets, in the process stripping away all the whiz-bang aspects of Gary Griffin’s 2005 staging…
A production designed for a 190-seat London theater is bound to rattle around in an 1,100-seat New York house, and Mr. Doyle’s version of “The Color Purple,” for all its own virtues, looks and feels like an off-Broadway show that made a wrong turn at 42nd Street. But Cynthia Erivo, who has come over from England to recreate the starring role of Celie, gives a performance big enough to play in the Grand Canyon: Her face is a deeply incised mask of suffering and sorrow, her acting is plain and true and her singing is gorgeous beyond belief….
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To read my review of School of Rock, go here.
To read my review of The Color Purple, go here.
A scene from the Broadway production of School of Rock:
The trailer for the original Menier Chocolate Factory production of The Color Purple: