Based on the 2003 film of the same title starring Jack Black, School of Rock tells the story of wannabe rock star Dewey Finn who, in a desperate attempt to make rent, poses as his flatmate Ned Shneebly, taking a supply teaching position at a prestigious private school. It's an uplifting tale showing the journey of a man-child reluctantly embracing adulthood and responsibility, whilst enabling a group of children to believe in their dreams. A class of wildly intelligent academic children form a rock band and begin a great adventure, and in the process both Finn and his pupils become confident and comfortable in their own skin. It's easy to see why Andrew Lloyd Webber found the story appealing and adapted it for stage, with the help of Julian Fellowes and Glenn Slater, including 14 new songs on top of the songs which feature in the film. Everyone knows the world loves the story of the underdog coming good and, having been a smash hit on Broadway, the production has hot-footed it across the pond to its new home; the New London Theatre.
At times the stage feels a little big for the production (the scenes which take place at Ned’s apartment especially), with the proscenium arch bearing down on the action; however in the classroom scenes and at the Battle of the Bands, JoAnn M Hunter’s dynamic choreography fills the space bringing the stage to life. Anna Louizos’ set is at its best when fused with Natasha Katz’s atmospheric lighting, especially in Act Two, culminating the final performance by the ‘School of Rock’. Having followed the story of Dewey and the children, the ending feels more like a stadium rock concert than your typical West End stage, allowing the audience to really engage with the children’s excitement having such a spectacular platform on which to showcase their talent.
The young actors are quite extraordinary in their skill, and truly do steal the show. The band’s music is all performed live, really putting the pressure on these youngsters to nail their parts, and nail it they do, in true rockstar style! James Lawson as Lawrence turns nerdy misfit into geek chic, while Tom Abisgold’s Zack showcases outstanding rock guitar skills, proving to be cooler than his teacher! Selma Hansen as Katie carried a solid baseline, with a guitar that appeared heavier than she was and Jude Harper-Wrobel’s Freddy, cementing the band with accuracy and rhythm on drums. It really is extraordinary what these young people achieve, especially when you consider throughout the show they are also creating character as well as dealing with the demands of dance and carrying the musical core of the piece. The adult members of the cast have a tough challenge every night, not only developing their variety of roles but also allowing the youngsters to shine. It's a job that's both disciplined and requires a balance of subtlety. The vivid characters they create are a credit to the performers who give generously to the execution of the plot.
David Fynn as Dewey fuses his defiance of ‘the man’ with the crushing insecurity and frustration of a man who hasn't made his mark in the world. In his energetic, child-like scenes, there's a lovely sense of the bond with his students, central to his personal journey; leading to more subtle scenes (in particular the roadhouse exchange with headmistress Ms Mullins) where we begin to understand that despite their differences, these central characters are by no means an impossible match. Florence Andrews takes the role of headmistress and delivers a suitably austere performance in the halls of her school. However in the aforementioned scene, in the moment where she returns to her youth in the haze of a Stevie Nick’s track, we see the vivacious personality underneath the restraints of her job.
“School of Rock” is a highly enjoyable night out. Whilst it is by no means a cerebral production, the heart-warming story and talent so evident on the stage, creates a delightfully positive atmosphere in which children and adults alike can let their hair down and rock out!