Magazine article The New Yorker

Report Card

Magazine article The New Yorker

Report Card

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REPORT CARD

Most of the dozen kids sprawled around a rehearsal studio on Forty-second Street the other day had on T-shirts and sneakers. It was a rehearsal for "School of Rock," a Broadway musical based on the Jack Black movie, about a burnout who poses as a substitute teacher and inducts his students into the joys of AC/DC. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber, who composed the score, paced the back of the room in Nikes and jeans. But Julian Fellowes, the show's book writer, best known as the creator of "Downton Abbey," was dressed for teatime: double-breasted blazer, red suspenders, maroon tie. Hunched over a laptop taking notes, he barely looked up as a group of child actors rehearsed a scene in which they bang out a passage from "The Magic Flute."

The actress playing their beleaguered music teacher grabbed a cymbal from a boy in a yellow hoodie. "Now what?" she asked, off-script. "Chuck it into the wings," someone said.

"Throw it into the dress circle," Fellowes suggested. "Decapitate some luckless audience member."

Rehearsal ended, the kids gathered their backpacks, and Fellowes headed out into Times Square. Asked if he had spotted any of the neighborhood's new icons, the desnudas , or any Elmos, he replied, "What are Elmos?"--an inadvertent echo of "Downton" 's Dowager Countess's inquiry "What is a weekend ?" Lunch was at the Hard Rock Cafe, where Fellowes paused in front of a display case of C.B.G.B. guitars. "Everclear, Toadies--what do these things mean ?" he said. He perked up at the sight of Jimi Hendrix's '67 Gibson SG. "Jimi Hendrix--I can go there. I remember his death. That was one of the key rock deaths of my youth. It's always shocking when people of your own generation die when you're young, because you're never going to die."

He sat under a Ramones poster and ordered the Jumbo Combo: chicken tenders, onion rings, and other deep-fried items. "It's enough food for about forty-five people," he said when it arrived.

How did he get from Highclere Castle to "School of Rock"? "Andrew rang me up and asked," he said. "Also, it seemed to me a nice change from ladies' maids and footmen." American fourth graders may not speak like the Earl of Grantham, but Fellowes, who lived in Los Angeles in the eighties, said that he feels comfortable in both vernaculars. …

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