LondonMusicalReview

School of Rock – New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Book: Julian Fellowes

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics: Glenn Slater

Director: Laurence Connor

There’s something faintly bizarre about a musical encouraging us to “stick it to the man”, written by two septuagenarian straight white male members of the House of Lords. You certainly wouldn’t expect an anti-establishment message to come from the minds behind Downton Abbey and The Phantom of the Opera.

And yet that is exactly what School of Rock Is – a message about the importance of self-expression over rigid societal expectations, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and with a book by Julian Fellowes. It helps, of course, that the source material is Mike White’s screenplay for the 2003 Jack Black vehicle, a warm comedy about a rock-obsessed slacker who poses as his substitute teacher flatmate in order to earn some easy money, and ends up turning his prep school charges into a metal band.

That warmth transfers easily to the stage, as evinced by School of Rock’s Broadway and West End runs, and now in this UK touring production. Jake Sharp is suitably manic as slacker Dewey Finn. Sharp excels in a role that needs to be grotesquely charismatic, both to match the energy Black brought to the screen role and also to compensate for Fellowes’ book leaving nearly all the other adults characters being rather thinly drawn.

A slight exception is Rebecca Lock as the school principal with her own rock-loving past. It’s a role that allows Lock to exercise her coloratura soprano skills with a rendition of the Queen of the Night’s aria from The Magic Flute, later letting her hair down to perform Where Did the Rock Go?, the closest thing this show gets to a musical theatre ballad. 

But it is the children who rightfully pull focus, and their characters and personalities are considerably better formed than the grown-ups’. This touring production has a rotating cast of 42 youngsters covering the twelve roles; most impressive on press night was Souparnika Nair as vocal powerhouse Tomika, but the ability level demonstrated by all the children is the show’s biggest asset.

Musically, this is the most fun Lloyd Webber has had in years, capturing some of the spirit of his earlier musicals without overly repeating himself. It is a shame, though, that the programme carries no writing credits for the creators of the songs lifted from the film, of which there are three. This includes the eponymous School of Rock (written for the film by White and Sammy James, Jr.), which unsurprisingly becomes the most-repeated number in the show.

Still, Lloyd Webber’s best self-penned number, Stick it to The Man, more than stands up against those imported numbers, and manages to distil the sense of rambunctious fun of the whole evening into a single song.

It may be curated by two of the least anti-establishment figures in British theatre, but School of Rock is nevertheless an embodiment of how much fun rebellion can be.

Continues until 26 March 2022

 

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