Book: Julian Fellowes
Music: Andrew Lloyd-Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Director: Laurence Connor
The Jack Black 2003 vehicle School of Rock, directed by Richard Linklater, remains a firm family favourite so it was only a matter of time before the story of Dewey Finn, a slacker musician who steps in as a supply teacher was turned into a musical. Andrew Lloyd Webber saw the opportunity for a stage adaptation, teaming up with book writer Julian Fellowes and lyricist Glenn Slater for this adaptation. Except there really hasn’t been much adaptation here: what you get from School of Rock the Musical is largely the film put on stage, with several Lloyd Webber and Slater songs added, most of which have left your head before you’ve left the theatre.
Uninterested in the set curriculum, Finn decides to teach his young charges through the medium of rock music. Ignoring the fact that he gets away with this for weeks, probably months, without anyone checking on his lessons, Finn develops close relationships with the diverse group in his charge and in time brings them together for the climactic Battle of the Bands, at the same time overcoming the objections of uptight headteacher Miss Mullins and the parents.
Local talent Jake Sharpe works hard as the central character of Finn but is asked to do a Jack Black impersonation with no opportunity given for him to find his own version of the character. The best moments in the show are when the young stars are left to shine: the one character who is allowed more growth than in the film is the shy singer Tomeka, played in this cast by the wonderful Souparnika Nair. When she gets the chance to plead to the disgraced Finn that she and her classmates really need him, as he is the only person who has really listened to them, you really feel drawn in to this character. If only more time were given to developing more of these backstories. There is a brief moment in Act 1 where the writers threaten something interesting and new, showing us the children with their neglectful parents, but it’s quickly forgotten and we are soon back with another loud, bouncing, sub-par rock number. And sadly, the sound balance on this occasion was not great so many of the lyrics were lost in the ether.
Despite the shortcomings in the writing, the cast delivers some excellent performances. West End stalwart Rebecca Lock brings her years of experience and class to her portrayal of Miss Mullins. But the stars of the show are undoubtedly the young cast members, with keyboard player David Gluhovsky, bassist Ivy Balcombe, guitarist Hanley Webb and drummer Isaac Forward to the fore. They make up one of four teams of talented youngsters on the tour and, yes, they really are playing. Indeed, in the climactic Teachers Pet number, the show’s pit band could clearly be seen standing up, looking out of the pit and encouraging and cheering on their young colleagues, which is a particularly nice touch.
The story from the film is pretty watertight so the musical works, especially with performances of this calibre. But one might expect more from a theatrical adaptation; more insight into the characters, more focus on their inner thoughts. But with a familiar script and mostly forgettable additional songs, this is a two-star show elevated by four-star performances.
Runs until 25 September 2021 and touring