Book: Julian Fellowes
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Director: Laurence Connor
For substitute teacher Dewey, life at the front of the classroom is not about solving equations or learning capital cities, it is about performing and raising mayhem in this fun and ferocious musical adaptation of the hit musical film School of Rock.
The plot follows closely that of the film, with Dewey (Jake Sharp) desperate to make it as a rockstar but having to take up work as a substitute teacher at a prestigious school as his dreams of rock success falter and his desire for a quick buck increases. In front of him, Dewey finds a talented class who, with a little bit of rehearsal and a lot of hiding from their headmistress, form the band of Dewey’s dreams with him as the frontman.
Sharp places his own spin on Dewey’s loveable and roguish character, not simply slipping into an impersonation of the role Jack Black iconically played in the original film. Sharp is tireless in this breathless performance, and he drives the piece through its slow start to its most thrilling conclusion. Sharp is absolutely the right frontman for this type of production, proving adept at physical comedy, rock anthems and even a few tender moments. This is a scintillating performance and one Sharp makes his own. This is a production, with its huge ensemble made up of very young actors, which could slip at the drop of a line or a note yet there is a steely confidence instilled within the cast embodied by Sharp’s determined and genuinely fun performance which makes this one of musical theatre leading role performances.
Providing Dewey’s boss-turned-love interest, Rebecca Lock is strong as the repressed headmistress Rosalie Mullins. Mullins is a character who is formidable at first, wishing to uphold the moral standards and virtues of her private school before this facade is slowly chipped away by Dewey’s charm, and a strategically played version of Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen. Indeed, through all of the stellar performances in this piece, Lock’s tenderness as the headmistress desperate to be noticed threatens to go unnoticed, but Lock keeps this at the fore of her role especially as the piece reaches its conclusion in Act Two.
Even with Sharp’s superb display and Lock’s tender teacher, the real star of this production is the stunning young ensemble cast who make up Dewey’s students. The talent of these young performers is astounding, and these are performers who are well-drilled in their delivery of demanding choreography, difficult notes and both physical and verbal comedy. Every member of this young cast shines and it really is the moments where these individuals are allowed to own the stage that this performance comes into its own. Each large musical item is sweetly struck and the buzz created, as the band comes together at the end for the Battle of the Bands, is unlike any other in similar child-focused musicals. All of the performers excel in their roles within Dewey’s band, but a notable mention must go to Souparnika Nair, who dazzles as Tomika as she finds her confidence, and her voice, in the group. Nair’s vocal range, and ability to combine rock with some genuinely sweet and touching moments, at such a young age, is stunning.
Songs such as Stick it to the Man and School of Rock are widely known, but it is the more subtle numbers such as Act One’s If Only You Would Listen, which capture the frustrations of the children as their parents palm them off to private school that strike a chord. In fact, despite its slow start the piece picks up once the musical numbers kick in and each feels strategically placed to perfectly complement the songs that come before and after each number.
This is a fun and powerful musical that offers a young cast to shine with the guidance of some tremendous adult stars. It is impossible not to be left smiling, once the final number hits, and it is the feel-good musical needed right now.
Runs until 28 May 2022, then continues tour