"The Music Teacher"

It's cheaper than a night at the theater, certainly, but even by TV-movie standards, decidedly off-Broadway.

Billed as Hallmark Channel’s “first musical,” “The Music Teacher” meets that description in only the broadest, most generous sense. Annie Potts stars as the title character, whose afterschool program is about to be phased out, only to have former students reunite to, yes, put on a show and save the day. What ensues is essentially a string of rehearsals for the big performance, linked by tepid high-school-reunion-type drama. It’s cheaper than a night at the theater, certainly, but even by TV-movie standards, decidedly off-Broadway.

Writer-producer Alan Ett penned the original songs, which are almost all of the Broadway ballad variety, and feature uplifting but saccharine lyrics like, “Others can help you find your way, but from your path don’t ever stray.”

Potts’ Alyson Daley has a hardened heart, having lost her husband and child in an accident years earlier, so much so she won’t even let a kindly suitor (Richard Thomas, in what amounts to a cameo) get emotionally close to her.

Mostly, though, “Music Teacher” is consumed by Alyson’s alumni, who reassemble to belt out show tunes on her behalf, while working out some of their high-school baggage along with current adult issues, including ancient crushes and old resentments.

Because most of this transpires as they practice under Alyson’s watchful eye, there’s no staging or evidence of production values to speak of — an apparent budgetary constraint that makes the movie play like a static filmed concert, and places undue weight on the generic tunes.

The one interesting wrinkle involves a now-popular TV star (Shawn Roberts) who was bullied and ignored in high school, but he comes in late, and that plot thread ultimately isn’t fleshed out better than any of the others.

That leaves the cast to croon Ett’s songs under Ron Oliver’s drab direction, which certainly won’t make anyone forget “Glee” or “High School Musical,” much less “A Chorus Line.”

Granted, there’s a certain throwback feel to the whole exercise that will probably be soothing to those old enough to remember Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movies, but only that level of nostalgia would allow “The Music Teacher” to merit more than average marks. And that’s grading on a curve.

The Music Teacher

Movie; Hallmark Channel, Sat. Aug. 11, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Vancouver by Front Street Pictures in association with Axelrod/Ett Prods. Executive producers, Jonathan Axelrod, Alan Ett, Ronald Parker; producer, Harvey Kahn; director, Ron Oliver; writer, Ronald Parker.

Crew

Camera, C. Kim Miles; production designer, Bob Bottieri; editor, Tony Dean Smith; music, Ett; casting, Jackie Lind, Shana Landsburg. 120 MIN.

Cast

Alyson Daley - Annie Potts
Zack - Kerry James
Dee Dee - Emilie Ullerup
Karen - Monica Delain
Jace - Shawn Roberts
Steve - Peter-John Prinsloo
Sheila - Rukiya Bernard
Ray - Richard Thomas

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