When I walked into Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre, I anticipated the excellence of one rock legend, Brandon Niederauer. By the time I left, I had witnessed thirteen undeniable stars.
When Brandon was ten years old, he appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and was deemed Prince of Jam Cruise; when he was eleven, he performed at the New Orleans Jazz Fest and was as an artist at large at Bear Creek Music Festival. He’s shared stages with Warren Haynes, Gregg Allman, George Clinton, Dr. John, Gary Clark Jr., Umphrey’s McGee, Lettuce, Galactic, and countless others. Now, at the age of twelve, he is performing the role of Zack Mooneyham in Broadway’s newest production: School Of Rock The Musical.
What led this little rock monster to have such an incredible passion for playing music? School of Rock, the 2003 film starring Jack Black. Hear the full story in the clip below:
When Brandon Niederauer watched School of Rock, the movie, he was immediately inspired to play rock and roll at the age of eight. That’s right. Within four years, he has accomplished more than most musicians do in their lifetime and is now performing as a lead role in the Andrew Lloyd Webber production of School of Rock The Musical. The story has been telling itself from the very beginning; we are all just here to learn from it. “Live life, be amazing” is Brandon’s motto.
But besides his guitar, acting, and modeling careers, and definitively more important than anything else, Brandon Niederauer is just a kid: a kid you have to remind to eat broccoli and to turn off the television when he’s doing his homework. He’s a 7th-grade student taking Math, Science, and Chinese with a near-perfect grade point average. He’s a twelve-year-old boy in more group chats than e-mail threads in a top business firm. He likes basketball, Instagram, and Snapchat. He has girl crushes and growing pains. He’s just like every other kid, he just happens to also be a rockstar.
Throughout this journey, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with the Niederauer family and stay in NYC with Brandon during weekdays. I’ve been riding shotgun in Brandon’s adventure and I’d like to take this opportunity to give readers a glimpse of what it’s like.
Brandon gets dropped off at the tutoring center every morning at 9:30am for two hours of homework. He is then picked up for an hour-long lunch break, in which he typically persuades me to take him to Guitar Center for a quick jam session before returning back to the monotony of his workday; creative expression is a must. At the Winter Garden Theatre, he rehearses until dinnertime (another short, hour-long break), then returns for more technical rehearsal until 10pm at night. At the end of the 12+ hour day, we walk home with interlaced hands as he curiously asks how my day was (while sneakily stealing my phone to send pictures of himself to Andrew Campanelli of The Revivalists). After dinner, there is always more homework to be done, guitar solos to be learned, popcorn to be consumed, and the cycle repeats itself Monday through Saturday.
Sundays are off and almost always present Brandon with an opportunity to play music with really cool people, like Jon Batiste and Stay Human at Webster Hall, or with Lady Gaga on set of a photoshoot with famed photographer Bruce Weber. There was even the time he played Barclay’s Center in front of 16,000 screaming Scorpions fans. Any chance he has to see music is a golden opportunity for Brandon to learn, and like a sponge he does. He is committed to excellence and his #1 goal is to become the best guitarist ever, who he currently pins to be Derek Trucks. The kid can hang, and I’ve never been so proud to see someone live out their dreams.
Beyond the face we know and love, the entire young cast of School of Rock has tremendous talent to offer on every level. The musical is an experience complete with life lessons, relatable moments, and most importantly, rock and roll. The plot follows an unsuccessful guitarist (Dewey) who robs the life of his roommate by pretending to be him in order to pay next month’s rent, leading him to Horace Green as a phony substitute teacher. The theme develops around a private school class of middle school students who break free from the expectations of their helicopter parents and submerge themselves fully in the discovery of their music appreciation. The realization is that through music, the children have become empowered and they need Dewey just as much as he discovers that he needs them.
In a quirky, yet sophisticated way, the learning experience involves everyone in the room, on and off the stage. While the children learn to release their inner rockstars, the parents, and audience, are forced to reflect on how they handle everyday life and how important the innocence of music, freedom, and childhood can be. (I saw plenty of parents turn their gaze to their children in precious nods of newly-discovered adolescent empathy.)
Andrew Lloyd Webber, who’s brilliantly known for his Broadway hits Jesus Christ Superstar, Phantom of The Opera, Cats, The Wizard of Oz, and many more, built this rock musical around the 2003 movie script – using the film’s original songs like “Teacher’s Pet” and “School Of Rock,” and adding his own rock ensembles like “You’re In The Band,” “Stick It To The Man,” and my personal favorite, a tearjerker, “If Only You Would Listen.”
The enormous amount of energy that burst from the stage was inconceivable at first – all of it coming from the children. Every kid on that stage held massive presence and displayed spectacular talent, which led the whole audience to leave in whispers of gratitude that the future indeed is bright. I myself experienced emotional flutters of pride in seeing the kids I’d spent the last four months sharing meals with as they displayed honest modes of maturity and professionalism.
Individually, they are living spectacles of their own dreams, having already performed on The Today Show and even aboard the Gibson float of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Brandon recently joined Webber on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert as part of Jon Batiste‘s house band, and Bobbi Mackenzie (who plays Tomika) sang for Michelle Obama at The White House. Their names are flashing on street corners and taped across bus stops and train stations galore; there are lines of people waiting for autographs at the end of their every show. With each of them excelling to the top of “Mount Rock”, they have remarkably invaluable accomplishments to be proud of at these early stages of their lives.
Appropriate for all ages and a must-see for music lovers, School of Rock The Musical officially hit the Winter Garden Theatre on Sunday, December 6. Tickets are now available via the SoR website. Prepare to have your mind blown. Watch the incredible trailer below:
[Photographs of Brandon by Sidney Smith]