SCHOOL OF ROCK, the musical, and Tender

School of Rock jettisoned Jack Black’s film career in 2003. Can anyone top his performance as Dewey Finn? I hear that Alex Brightman slays it, throwing himself into the highly physical part and losing one or two pounds per show. We saw his understudy, Jonathan Wagner, who comes very close to Jack Black and even looks like him. NYC students will especially appreciate the saga of parents pressuring kids to get good grades and kids wanting to explore private artistic passions. In a kids-to-parents song “If Only You Would Listen” substitute teacher Dewey asks, “What makes you more angry than anything else in the world?” Katie (Evie Dolan, age 11) answers, “Being over scheduled.” The dialogue could be way wittier, but perhaps Andrew Lloyd Webber and Julian Fellowes are the perfect team for serviceable children’s musicals. “Stick It to the Man” and “You’re In the Band” were a lot alike, but Arden, our young critic, rocked out to both. Spencer Moses is delightful as Dewey’s best bud, Ned. A shout out to young back-up singer Carly Gendell, with her groovy dance moves—it’s no surprise that she’s played Annie. Parents be warned: the music is loud all the way through. Children in the cast bop, stomp, and punch energetically—and yes, they really do play their own instruments.

Steak and sushi are on the lunch and dinner menus at Tender Bar and Grill in the Sanctuary Hotel near the theatre district in midtown. The tangy, wild ginger-edamame appetizer was a winner, but the flatbread pizza was unremarkable. Atlantic salmon burger was our favorite on the 3-course, $29 pre-matinee prix fixe. Tender is a sports bar with giant screens, exposed brick walls and teal blue leather banquettes, with pop music (but the volume is kept low) and kid-friendly. Arden raved about the steak.

China Doll with Al Pacino and The Four Seasons

Al Pacino at the stage door, photo by Denise Korey
 Al Pacino plays Mickey Ross, a well-preserved big shot now in love with a much younger woman, referred to as Miss Pierson (who never appears). “She could have any man she wished, but she chose me.” Old Man, young wife, new life: “the ultimate fantasy of wealth,” Mickey instructs Carson, his assistant, played by tall and clean cut Charles Denham. Other times Mickey has no illusion that Miss Pierson loves him for any reason other than his money.

Mickey and Carson spend the day working mainly on the telephone (bluetooth devices) in Mickey’s luxurious skyscraper apartment with a view of only the sky (fab set by showboat Derek McLane). On prominent display is a model of the private jet Mickey bought for Miss Pierson, who is in Canada to pick it up, finding that the plane was impounded as a lien against taxes and crashing Mickey's plans.

David Mamet wrote China Doll specifically for Al Pacino, who is now seventy-five. Pacino is no longer the jangly kid in his cinematic debut, the 1971 Panic in Needle Park, but don’t tell him that. Pacino acts all over the place with great verve and generosity. It's impossible to watch him for long without smiling. Even if the two-hour China Doll were a total piece of shit (and some critics have suggested that) you still want to see this play.

Directed by Pam MacKinnon, specialist in the most difficult characters, the ending is so shocking that the audience gasps.

Plans are afoot to move the Four Seasons downtown in 2016. It may never compete with where it has been since 1959, the Seagram Building on Park Avenue and 52nd, the epitome of postmodernity. The interior is designed by the building’s architects, Philip Johnson (of the Glass House) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The vast, sweeping Pool Room has stellar acoustics and is flatteringly lit, which renders it cozy in spite of itself.

The Grill Room was all men in suits. The Pool Room was more romantic, with couples side by side on sleek Mies van der Rohe sofas, holding hands. Menu and the flowers around the gurgling pool change seasonally. A good value $59 three-course prix fixe drew out the pre-matinee lunch to allow for basking in the iconic architecture, in the auspiciousness. My charming waiter said President Barack Obama announced his candidacy at the upstairs private Four Seasons dining room.

You can imagine Mickey Ross and Carson, or Don Draper and Peggy Olson, in the Grill or Pool Room, ordering the celebrated rare bison filet at $72. On the relatively thrifty prix fixe, pappardelle with oxtail-mushroom ragout was rich and memorable, following a tender “ewe blue” and quartered Bibb lettuce salad.

It was a hard choice in primi, secondi and dolce—every dish sounds amazing. Chocolate-pecan cake with a near-cookie texture and wave of Ganache ended the meal in a salted caramel flourish (photo above). And this is as surreal as it soundsand you have to see it to believe itthe towering clouds of pink cotton candy studded with crystallized violets that pour out of the kitchen to the tables. Cotton candy is the Four Seasons’ signature dessert all year long.