I can only presume the rehearsal period for School of Rock The Musical was nothing short of intense for its youngest stars, of whom there are many, thanks to regulations on the working hours of children in this country, disliked by the show’s composer and producer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, as it prevents star billing for the children’s band. I can see his line of argument – it seems to work for the Broadway production of the same show – and I don’t think any of the children would be left too exhausted by playing their parts eight times a week, as it’s adult character Dewey Finn (David Fynn) who takes on the most physical aspects in a remarkable display of passion for rock. Always ‘rock’. ‘And roll’ never comes into it. ‘Rock’ is more than sufficient on its own.
The storyline is, at times, frankly ridiculous. The audition process to form Finn’s band, funnily enough, eventually called ‘School of Rock’, is absurd, and nothing like the audition process anyone in the cast of this production would have experienced themselves. Given that Finn, assuming the role of a ‘substitute teacher’, what the American education system calls a supply teacher, is effectively abandoning the curriculum in favour of getting his class to immerse themselves in rock music in order to enter a regional rock music competition, wouldn’t the most logical thing to do, first and foremost, is spend the time and effort necessary to soundproof the classroom?
I could go on, but such analysis and pointing out of holes in the plot rather misses the more salient points that the show wishes to put across. There are, broadly speaking, parallels between this show and others that strongly feature children. In both Matilda The Musical and Billy Elliot The Musical, for example, exist robust examples of children who defy parental authority without harming anyone. In this show, at least, the ending is unquestionably predictable. The parents of children enrolled at Horace Green Preparatory School go from being unanimously against the School of Rock and all it stands for to being unanimously supportive of it, and everyone’s happy.
The ‘auditions’ are, to be fair to them, responsible for my favourite line in the show. After hearing a line or two of ‘Memory’ from Cats, Finn (impersonating his friend Ned Schneebly (Oliver Jackson) – there’s something Shakespearean about this) almost barks that he does not want to hear that song sung “here, in this building again!” The double meaning here is that ‘this building’ is the New London Theatre, where Cats played for 21 years. From that line onwards, I must admit, the show had me hook, line and sinker.
In all the silliness of ‘sticking it to the man’ (whatever that means – it’s for those who have seen the show to know and those who haven’t to find out) and Finn as Schneebly being generally politically incorrect, the show demonstrates deeper elements in its narrative. Tomika (at this performance, Nicole Dube) touchingly overcomes nerves and timidity, and other classmates express reservations at various points in the show about whether they can really pull off a live rock band performance. Crises of confidence and daunting challenges, even if not of this exact nature, happen to adults as well. Certain young characters are made so incredibly human by their nervousness, and it is only when I realised that of course, they cannot actually be nervous, performing to a West End audience as they are, that I more fully appreciated the scale of the young talent on display.
Worth mentioning, too, is that because of the way the story is structured, the children must learn more than one instrument. Their skills are remarkable. Katie (at this performance, Lois Jenkins), assigned bass guitar by Finn, could not have been much taller than the guitar itself would have been positioned vertically on its stand, and Freddy (at this performance, Jude Harper-Wrobel) appears to take charge of a full-size drum kit, and not a ‘junior’ one.
The litmus test for a decent feel-good musical is whether the audience is humming the tunes on the way out. School of Rock The Musical certainly passed that test. This is as far away as Andrew Lloyd Webber could get from the borderline melodrama of The Phantom of the Opera, and the musical numbers shine.
There’s much humour to be enjoyed, too, even from supposedly square and sober characters such as Patty Di Marco (Preeya Kalidas) and Horace Green school principal Rosalie Mullins (Florence Andrews).
With plenty of eagerness and heart, this unapologetically positive musical is well worth seeing – and hearing. The transformative power of music is inspirational in this splendid show.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Based on the iconic, hit movie, this irresistible new musical follows Dewey Finn, a failed, wannabe rock star who decides to earn an extra bit of cash by posing as a supply teacher at a prestigious prep school. There he turns a class of straight–A pupils into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. But can he get them to the Battle of the Bands without their parents and the school’s headmistress finding out?
With a new score from Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Julian Fellowes and the original songs from the movie, School of Rock is a musical treat for all ages. After rave reviews on Broadway, you are invited to bring your air guitar and unleash your inner rock god!
School of Rock The Musical
New London Theatre
166 Drury Lane, London, WC2B 5PW
Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm