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School of Rock the Musical – Theatre Royal Wakefield

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Book: Julian Fellows

Lyrics: Glenn Slater

Director/Choreographer: Louise Denison

Wakefield Youth Music Theatre’s superb production of the Fellows/Lloyd Webber adaptation of the film written by Mike White more than justifies the full (or nearly full) houses all the way through its extended run.

Dewey Finn (Jacob Birch) is every self-respecting parent’s nightmare, a selfish opportunist who tries to send his pupils out for food (for him, of course, but their 10-dollar bill!) in their first lesson, so how does he get a job at a high-class establishment like Horace Green? Easy, in the free-wheeling anarchic style that prevails for much of the show: he is dossing with a former band colleague, now a teacher, Ned Schneebly (an alternately smiling and agonised Will Collier), intercepts a phone call which offers a temporary job for Ned, hears the salary and shows up as Mr. Schneebly – where do Americans find these names?

What follows is sheer fun. Dewey crosses swords with Principal Rosalie Mullins, a figure of enormous dignity in Olivia Reid’s characterisation – and capable of delivering a mean version of Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria. Of course he discovers hidden talent, but Fellows and Lloyd Webber mix the whole thing up very nicely, with school songs giving way to the delights of You’re in the Band as Dewey recruits rock musicians to enter the Battle of the Bands. Nor is the faculty excluded, with smart interplay of voices in the Faculty Quadrille.

The second half builds to a glorious conclusion, with probably the major song, Stick it to the Man, reprised and a super-clever rock version of the Queen of the Night, but it does have its longueurs where Fellows (no doubt taking his lead from the film) feels impelled to give Dewey a conscience and spell out our duty to the upcoming generation.

That is the only hint of criticism of a witty book, a score full of clever pastiche and a simply glorious production. The performances that director Louise Denison and musical director Jim Lunt secure from the 47 (count ’em) on-stage actors are remarkable, from the precise sense of fun in the gyratings of the chorus to the instrumental expertise of the band, Milo Neale and Millie Sheppard outstanding. Eva Thornton is delightfully bossy as Summer and eventually Isabella Chidlaw unfurls a mighty voice, but the point about the show is that everyone makes the most of his or her chance, whether a smart line or a significant look.

And what of Dewey Finn? Jacob Birch is simply magnificent, putting over his songs with great impact, convincing totally as a fly-by-night cheat who finds his mission, timing his lines with perfect skill. But it’s never a one-man show and many cameos live with this reviewer.

Runs until 2nd September 2023.

The Reviews Hub Score

Simply superb!

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. 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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