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BWW Interview: He's Ready to Rock! Meet Broadway's New Leading Man, SCHOOL OF ROCK's Alex Brightman

BWW Interview: He's Ready to Rock! Meet Broadway's New Leading Man, SCHOOL OF ROCK's Alex BrightmanIt's been a long way to the top for Broadway's newest leading man. In just months, Alex Brightman (Matilda, Big Fish, Wicked) will take to the stage as substitute teacher 'Dewey' in School of Rock, based on the 2003 film of the same name. With a book by Julian Fellowes, lyrics by Glenn Slater, and new music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the new musical is set to begin previews at the Winter Garden Theatre on November 9, with an opening night slated for December 6, 2015.

SCHOOL OF ROCK follows struggling rock singer and guitarist, Dewey Finn (Brightman), who is kicked out of his band and subsequently disguises himself as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. After witnessing the musical talent in his students, Dewey forms a band of fourth-graders to attempt to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands and pay off his rent.

Brightman recently took part in a series of concert workshops at the Gramercy, which gave fans a sneak peek of the new musical. Now with just months left until the curtain rises at the Winter Garden, he is looping in BroadwayWorld on what he is up to in the meantime. Check out the full interview below!


Now that the Gramercy concerts are done, what's going on now? Is it the calm before the storm?

It's funny; everyone has been using that phrase. I hope it's a really good storm! I guess that's what you'd think. The Gramercy kept me very occupied. I felt like I lived there. We were basically in rehearsal the whole time, just me and the kids, and every once and a while I would see an adult. [Laughs] That was wonderful. Now that I have a three-month hiatus, I wasn't really sure of what to do. I couldn't take any work because I couldn't really go out of town.

In my off time I like to teach, so I'm doing that. My writing partner, Drew Gasparini, and I tried to put together a master class about a year ago- kinda like a boot camp, but with a little more edge. So rather than, "Everyone is great! You're all beautiful!" it's more like, "You've gotta work on this..." I think that in too many classes people get a pat on the back or the sixth place trophy, which I've never really agreed with. The class didn't really work with our schedules, but I decided to do a couple of my own. For a couple of years I've been teaching at Broadway Across America and Camp Broadway, but now this is my own class. It's affectionately called 'Alex Brightman Teaches You How to Kick Auditions in the Ass.' So I have five classes at Broadway Across America and two classes of my own at the end of the month. [*More info below]

Another thing that I'm doing, which I don't get to do while we were at the Gramercy, is work on my writing projects that I had to flake out on. School of Rock just took up all of my energy and I felt like a walking zombie. So Drew and I have a ton of projects that we are developing- one of which is a show that we were commissioned to write by Universal Theatrical. We're writing a musical version of their movie 'It's Kind of a Funny Story.' It's about a kid who checks himself into a mental institution and falls in love. It's so much more than that, but that's the best way to describe it! We're also writing a one-man show for Marc Summers from 'Double Dare.' That's premiering next April. So that's the short answer to your question. [Laughs]

You're certainly keeping yourself busy!

I just hate being bored. It makes my anxiety go to a place where I feel like I should be doing something.They also have me taking guitar lessons. I was taking them before the Gramercy run. I've being playing off and on for ten years, but this is just to help me with my technique and soloing and to help to keep it up. The cool thing is that I get to take lessons with some of the kids from the show. It's adorable. I love that in the past year the majority of my friends on stage have been under the age of ten. [Laughs] Literally every moment onstage in 2015, between Matilda and School of Rock...

You obviously have lots of experience working with kids. Is that something you're looking forward to doing again? Have you found many challenges involved?

BWW Interview: He's Ready to Rock! Meet Broadway's New Leading Man, SCHOOL OF ROCK's Alex BrightmanMy outlook has changed 1000% on kids in general and with kids onstage. A long time ago there was a director in California who said something about me, which I never understood until I met these kids. She said, "There's a huge difference between kid actors and actors who are kids." There are so many kid actors, who play Annie their whole life. But after doing Matilda and now with School of Rock... these kids are prodigies. They are naturals onstage. It almost makes you believe in reincarnation for a moment- you're like, "These people have been here before..."

I made the grand mistake once during Matilda of treating them like kids. The first thing I did was ask, "Hey! What's your favorite color?" And they were like, "Uhhhh, why are you asking me that?" They're like me though. I grew up in the theatre too. I started when I was 8, and I was doing professional productions when I was 10. So I was around adults who expected me to act like an adult. I have very little patience for children, but I realize these kids are adults. They have real problems and real issues and they work through them. And yet they leave it all off the stage and, especially at the Gramercy, went balls to the wall every single night. They're pure energy.

That must be refreshing in itself...

Even if you are tired, or if you have a reason to not want to be onstage (which I don't believe you should), the second you hit the stage with those kids it's like, "Oh, yeah. I gotta do this!" It brings you back to what theatre is supposed to be- playing. It's having fun and it's not that serious. Kids remind you how silly our job is.

Also, I get invited to such cool things now! I got invited on a field trip to see Pitch Perfect 2! I feel like there will be a lot of that in the next year- me and twenty kids.

What was your biggest takeaway from the Gramercy concerts?

My biggest takeaway was that I think Andrew Lloyd Webber... my dear friend Andrew [Laughs], he said, "I can't believe I never thought of this before. This sort of way of doing this." We could change anything. What was great about that was the show, like any early show, was not perfect. It was flawed and it has things you can only figure out by doing it, and most importantly doing it in front of an audience, which is why shows go out of town. Rather than going out of town and having to spend billions of dollars on automation and all of that kind of stuff, we had boxes and panels and if we wanted to change something just to see if it would work, we could change it right then and there rather than have to wait two or three days to figure that. So, we could just change the show like old school theatre. It felt like it was just grassroots theatre except the stakes were a little higher.

BWW Interview: He's Ready to Rock! Meet Broadway's New Leading Man, SCHOOL OF ROCK's Alex BrightmanThe cool thing was that we got to improvise a lot, which is very fun. The script would kind of change and every other day we would get new pages that were sort of variations on some of the improvs we had come up with on the spot. I think that Laurence Connor is one of the most fearless directors just to come up to me at some point and be like, "In this moment just play around." And I said, "Well, okay. What are we looking to find?" And he said, "No, I mean every night play around." He literally gives us total freedom. I get the freedom to do what I do best, which also gives the audience literally a different show every night.

I'm think I'm pretty familiar with your resume, and it doesn't really scream "rock singer" to me. Did you always know you had this in you?

I know exactly what you mean. What's hilarious is that it's all I've ever wanted to do, since I was about eight years old. My Mom was a groupie and worked at recording studios. She raised me on Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith and Utopia and Todd Rundgren. So, I got a really nice eclectic base of growing up that way and so that is my favorite music. I have no other favorite music other than rock and roll and alternative rock. So, that's been there my whole life. I was in a band in high school. When I started my professional career, I did a play, which was The History Boys, and I fell madly in love with plays. I said, "Okay, that's what I'm going to do forever. I'm going to do plays and I'm going to sing or do karaoke or be in a band on the side." And then it just didn't work out that way because I ended up doing musicals for the rest of my life, which is great and I like doing musicals and I feel like I have a knack for it, but if I had the opportunity or if I had the choice, I would do that. I would do plays and do karaoke on the side because I love, love, love to rock.

You know, in concert and in like little cabarets here and there at 54 Below or with Drew, I have a lot of people that come up to me afterwards that say, "I had no f*ckin' idea you could sing like that." This show is in a place where I am comfortable- where I feel at home. Especially having a guitar strapped to me... it's like, forget about it. That's where I live. In my perfect world I'm on stage with a guitar.

BWW Interview: He's Ready to Rock! Meet Broadway's New Leading Man, SCHOOL OF ROCK's Alex BrightmanSo this really is your dream job!

Absolutely. I also get to do comedy in a way that I like to do comedy. With Wicked and Matilda and Big Fish, it was comedy, but it was comedy on other people's terms. You know, it was held to a certain script or a certain performance that I was coming in to replace. With this I literally get to be a very, very close version of myself. My brand of humor is not Jack Black's brand of humor, and it shouldn't be because his is so freakin' great and I am such a huge fan that I would never be able to do it. So the way I'm describing how this is done is as sort of a Bad News Bears version of School of Rock. It's bigger, it's bolder, it's still sort of a family show, but it's edgier I think. Yeah, I think it's a little more in your face; a little more sardonic and sarcastic in that way.

What did you sing at your audition?

Other than the stuff they gave me from the show I sang "Highway to Hell" by AC/DC. And then I sang "Free Fallin'" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Very nice. And that got you the job!

Yeah, I really had no clue I was going to get the job out of that. I know a lot of people say that stuff, but you can ask my friends and definitely my family. I was not in the way where I was like, "I don't think I'm gonna get it," and trying to be humble. The fact that I did is again a testament to Laurence, putting his faith in somebody who is not necessarily a recognizable name. I was just desperately like, 'Maybe I'll get ensemble? Or maybe an understudy? Either way I can't wait to see it!" That was my attitude. I wasn't glum about it. I was just like, "Yeah someone else is going to be really great!"

You've been in the business a long time, but you've never had a part like this. Are you ready for people to know who you are? Does that make you nervous?

BWW Interview: He's Ready to Rock! Meet Broadway's New Leading Man, SCHOOL OF ROCK's Alex BrightmanThat's a great question. The short answer is yes! I am, because I have so many things that I want to do in School of Rock and out of School of Rock. I think that on a very technical level this will allow me to do some things that I want to do. I'm very excited to have people know who I am. This is a kind of role that I am thrilled people are going to get to see me. For me, it's just doing a show, which I am always having a great time doing. If there was a role that I would want most people to see me do and a role that I should be known for, there could not be a better show to do it with.

That being said, I do have quite a bite of anxiety disorder. I've always said that I would like to be Broadway famous, which is like the most famous that I am and that I could be. If people know who I am and don't necessarily see me on the street and have to follow me or whatever, that would be great! Not like when you see Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise or those kinds of stars and they are accompanied by so many light bulb flashes. That to me is not a life. So I would like to be able to pay my rent, and to have fun, and to not have people follow me around or know my whole business about what I'm doing.

It's the ideal set up...

I think every actor everywhere has something in their heart keeps them going. None of us got in this for the money. And if you did get in this for the money, then get out because there isn't any. I think when I was eight years old, dancing on my fireplace to Gloria Estefan (which is a true story), part of me, either consciously or subconsciously was like, "It would be great to be star. I want to feel that way." It's a good feeling. Even if it's for a couple of months or a year. It didn't fall into my lap. That's the kind of success I get very excited about people for. People that work really hard and people who deserve it. I feel deserving of this, without trying to sound pompous. I just worked super hard and now I get to do freakin' cool things!


To sign up for 'Alex Brightman Teaches You How to Kick Auditions in the Ass' (July 22 and 23), contact alexteachesstuff@gmail.com.

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