The lead of the new musical “School of Rock” gives us a backstage look into the highly-anticipated show
BY ANGELA BARBUTI
At 8 years old, Alex Brightman saw Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” at the Winter Garden Theatre and knew he was destined for a life on Broadway. As fate would have it, he is now performing on that very stage in another show whose music was composed by Webber, “School of Rock.”
The Saratoga, California, native plays a charlatan substitute teacher at a prep school, the character Jack Black created for the movie on which the show is based. Leading a group of children on stage every night keeps the already energetic Brightman even more motivated. “They make me feel like a kid ... and they give me more energy than I can ever need,” he said. “So if I ever feel tired in the middle of the show, which is rare, all I have to do is look them in the eyes and see how excited they are, and it immediately gets me back and reminds me why I’m doing this.”
The musical, which is now in its second week of previews, opens Dec. 6. But before opening night, Brightman will celebrate another milestone in his career, performing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “I’m psyched for the parade. I’ve only watched it on TV. I’ve never been a part of it; I’ve never even been near it,” he said.
Who were your Broadway idols growing up? Did you listen to a lot of Andrew’s music?No I didn’t, actually. Of course I listened to “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I’m a big rock and roll fan; I grew up listening to a lot of rock and roll bands. I had my “Cats” album. I listened to Rent. My biggest album was The Who’s “Tommy;” that really inspired me. And if you want to talk about Broadway idols, still to this day, and he was in “Tommy” and is now in “Fun Home,” Michael Cerveris. He just won the Tony Award for “Fun Home.” If my career could take any shape in any form, it would be his. He’s got this amazing, rich career that I’m hoping to emulate at some point.
How much contact do you have with Andrew? I read you were the first one to call him ‘homie.’Yes, that is forever and always going to be the first time he’s ever been called ‘homie’ and it was by me. That was very exciting, because I call a lot of people ‘homie.’ It’s sort of my version of “dude” or “man.” He’s been there since the very beginning. He’s a busy guy, so every once in a while, he has to fly back to London and do other stuff because he is the most recognizable songwriter in history. But he is so collaborative. He’s there every day for most of the hours, always tinkering and tweaking. He’s always chatting with me and what I love is, more times than not, he will ask my opinion on things. Which I would have never assumed, because he’s had this huge career and he’s got all the answers as far as I’m concerned. But it’s nice to know that even someone of his caliber doesn’t have all the answers and constantly seeks them out.
Have you spoken to Jack Black yet? How much of the character is inspired by his portrayal?No, not yet. I met Mike White who wrote the movie. He’s a super nice guy. I haven’t met Jack Black, but can’t wait until he comes to the show. I do know he saw the 360-degree video that’s online and he loved it from what I hear. So I know he’s aware of the show and likes what we’re doing, but I haven’t met him yet. I’m hoping he comes to my opening night. I am trying to do something very different. Obviously the character will be there because it’s the character he created. I’m not trying to do something antagonizing of Jack Black’s role because it’s so good and I’m a huge fan of it. But, I have a different style of humor and they’ve allowed me to be a little drier, a little more sarcastic. It’s a little more “Bad News Bears.” But a lot of the classic lines from the movie are there and I try to do them justice. There’s a couple of tips of the cap to Jack because I’m such a huge fan anyway and I want to make sure he’s still represented.
How many kids are you working with? It must be fun having them on stage with you.There are 13 kids every night on stage. There are four backstage who are understudies. There are 17 total in the building that I know and hang around with. We have a great rapport. Like I said, we have this “Bad News Bears” kind of thing. Kids of this generation kind of love to be fake disrespected and so, there is a bit of me being the grumpy Walter Matthau type, which they love. They love to combat that and be snotty back to me. And kids are natural entertainers and they don’t realize yet- I mean, some of them do- but it’s so nice to see some of them just going to have fun. They’re some of the most talented kids and people I’ve ever met. Not just kids, they’re some of the most talented persons I’ve ever experienced.
Explain where you were when you got the news you were cast. Who were the first people you told?It was a moment I will never forget and I made double sure that I wouldn’t forget it. And I don’t know why, but the first thing I thought was, ‘Look around and see who’s around and if there’s a landmark I can remember.’ I looked up and I was on 23rd Street and 7th Avenue, since I was heading home and going to the 1 train. And I got the news and very quickly hung up on my agent because I didn’t have anyone with me, so didn’t want to be the guy in the middle of the street jumping up and down, looking like a lunatic. And so, I just got on the subway and sort of looked around at a bunch of strangers with my headphones on and thought to myself over and over again and it became a weird mantra, “Nobody knows except for me. I’m the only one who knows this news right now. I’m the only one in the world who knows that I’m doing this.” And now everyone knows.
Follow Alex on Twitter @ABrightMonster. To learn more about the show, visit www.schoolofrockthemusical.com