School of Rock – Milton Keynes Theatre

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Book: Julian Fellowes

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics: Glenn Slater

Director: Laurence Connor

Based on the cult film and with a rocking score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, School of Rock follows wannabe rock star Dewey Finn (Jake Sharp) as he lies his way into a cover teacher position at a prestigious prep school. Here he turns a class of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing all-conquering rock band – sensationally performed by the production’s young cast with incredible energy. School of Rock is uplifting and full of laughs: Laurence Connor’s direction has skilfully succeeded in the fusion of identifiable moments, peppered with topical humour, from the original film.

Anna Louizo’s exposed brick and formal wood-panelled scenery, combined with the vibrant technicolour lighting design from Natasha Katz, transports the audience from seedy rock club to buttoned-up prep school, to full-sized rock arena within the blink of an eye. The fantastic colour palette that they have applied to the production matches the rapid pace of the show and shamelessly brings with it every rock and roll cliché image that it possibly can. Whilst it is somewhat predictable, that does not detract from its entertainment value.

The show opens with Dewey’s original band No Vacancy, styled much in the fashion of 80’s rockers like Bon Jovi, performing the grungy I’m Too Hot For You. It becomes all too clear through this number that scruffy Dewey doesn’t fit the band’s image. While this scene is necessary for context, it is quite a slow-moving prologue and the stage feels sparse, fully relying on Jake Sharp’s charisma and humorous performance to make it work – indeed, a large proportion of this show is pinned on Sharp’s shoulders. In a role synonymous with Jack Black’s movie portrayal, Sharp manages to encapsulate the manic brilliance of the movie without it ever turning into a cheap impersonation. He captures brilliantly the arrested development of Dewey who seems not to have moved past his adolescence. This is never more apparent than in Children of Rock, as Dewey and Ned (Matthew Roland) rock out in a fantastically immature game of Guitar Hero, showcasing their bromance as they prance around Ned’s living room with gusto.

With a natural gift for physical comedy, Sharp plays Dewey with a lovely mix of naivety, grotesque slapstick humour and ferocious physical energy that bounces off, but never upstages, the children. He has strong chemistry with Mrs Mullins (Rebecca Lock) whose rigid physicality harmonises with his devil-may-care approach. Lock is superb as the highly-strung headmistress: her performance is dynamic and captivating, showcasing both her stunning soprano range as she scales the heights of Mozart’s Queen of the Night as well as her rock belt which is shown in the second act.

Naturally though, the apex of the show can be attributed to the insane talent on display from the children on stage.

When Dewey recognises that the children can play their own instruments, he decides that they should become a rock band and it is in these scenes where the magic really happens. Hanley Webb wows everyone with his incredible guitar playing. He is a confident and accomplished musician who is sure to take the music industry by storm in future. Ivy Balcombe as Katie is incredible to watch. Her tiny frame looks too small to hold the bass guitar that Dewey hands her, and in an instant, she transforms from sweet little schoolgirl to fierce rock princess before our eyes.

While she doesn’t find her voice until the second act, Tomika (Jasmine Djazel) steals the show with her beautiful pop voice. With a smooth vocal clarity that chimes through the auditorium like a bell, she shines within the ensemble numbers and solo moments alike. The children’s band exudes cool and the younger audience members are enthralled by them. It is uplifting and inspiring to watch the children’s company perform in this way: each one of them is a shining superstar.

It is clear from the outset that the children are having the time of their lives as they spring into action in the regimented choreography of Horace Green alma mater. Joann M. Hunter’s choreography is delivered in perfect synchronisation within the children’s first number and each of the young cast is a consummate professional. Each member of the children’s company takes on the choreography with energy and enthusiasm oozing rock attitude. Hunter has perfectly encapsulated the juxtaposition between the stifled, almost military structure at Horace Green and the rebellious rock style that is adopted as the show goes on. As Act I reaches its climax, the children are almost unrecognisable in their physicality. The explosive choreography and freeze frame ending to Stick It To The Man at the end of the act is a credit to this triple threat cast.

While the show itself isn’t perfect – there are some definite pacing issues along the way – it certainly is entertaining and represents a good family night out. It is exuberant, loud, and brash and it fully intends to be. A classic Andrew Lloyd- production that will entertain young and old alike as it hits all the right power chords.

Runs until 26 February 2022 and touring

The Reviews Hub Score

The Reviews Hub Score

A rocking night out!

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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