Book: Julian Fellowes
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Director: Laurence Connor
Based on the hit Jack Black film of the same name, Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Julian Fellowes’ musical follows the misadventures of an out-of-work musician struggling to pay his rent. When the opportunity arises to “teach” at Horace Green School, he leaps at the chance – however, what transpires is not only a lesson for the staff, parents and students of the school but also for Dewey himself.
Julian Fellowes (probably best known as the writer/creator of Downtown Abbey,) keeps his adaptation very true to the original film while being able to breathe a modern touch here and there to keep the story and the timeline feeling fresh and contemporary. Just how “Rock” Lloyd-Webbers music is, is certainly up for debate. What one can’t deny, is that within the 2.5hour musical there are some brilliant songs If Only You Would Listen, Stick It To The Man and Where Did The Rock Go to name a few. Glenn Slater’s lyrics bring a familiar sense to proceedings, lyrics that feel true to the moment and don’t get caught in the overly metaphoric trap that many musicals tend to do.
Laurence Connor is one of the UK’s strongest musical theatre directors – so often directors want to show you it’s “their” show, but Connor (whose other hits include the restaging of Joseph, Les Mis, Miss Saigon) focuses on what’s important and that’s the storytelling, ensuring he gets the best from each and every performer on the stage and he manages to do that brilliantly here, especially as half of the cast are under the age of 14. The pace flows brilliantly, the jokes both visual and scripted land each and every time. Played upon Natasha Katz fluid and clever set design, we are transported to various locations fast and efficiently.
The pull of course to this production are the quadruple-threat child performers who all sing, dance, act and play instruments – this really is a school of rock and they knock it out of the ballpark – especially when events on Liverpool’s press night (an hour-long evacuation from the theatre) threatens to de-rail the performances. Brilliant performances come from Layla Pages and the strong-minded Summer and Daisy Hanna as Bass guitarist Katie. Thomas Harvey is strong as Freddy alongside very funny performances from Kaylenn Aires Fonseca as costume designer Billy and Angus McDougall as Lawrence. Jasmine Djazel rounds off things with a wonderfully sweet portrayal of rising star Tomika.
Within the adult company, Rebecca Lock simply shines as Horace Green’s misunderstood headmistress Rosalie Mullins, her rendition of Where Did the Rock Go being a true show highlight. Matthew Rowland as Ned Schneebly brings plenty of laughs, but it is the undeniable energy of Jake Sharp as Dewey Finn, that quite simply takes the breath away. Sharp’s performance makes the Duracell Bunny look like a cuddly sloth. Full of physical comedy and excellent vocals and musicianship, this is a performer that has a strong career ahead.
School of Rock is everything excellent theatre should be and one hopes it isn’t too long before another tour is remounted, because judging by the amount of children in the theatre, loving every single moment there is a new generation of art-loving students being created thanks to this show.
Runs until 9 July 2022 and continues its UK Tour