Andrew Lloyd Webber has returned to the West End, his new material a far cry from his last theatrical attempt, with a musical adapted from the hit film School of Rock. Fresh, awesome and surprsingly compelling, the kids save this show from being a potential slow burner.
School of Rock sees the lives of the children at renowned prep school, Horace Green, turned upside down as Dewey Finn, a failing rocker, pretends to be a teacher to get some fast cash. In taking over the kid’s class, he soon finds that the talented bunch are being stifled by their parents and unwittingly encourages them to find a new direction by starting a rock band that will change their lives forever.
The biggest challenge for this musical to overcome is of course it’s unavoidable comparison to the film, to varying success. First let’s look at the positives – they keep the majority of the original music which was one of the film’s best assets, and it is awesomely performed by (on to positive number two) the incredible child performers that they have cast. Playing live throughout, you can’t believe that these quadruple threats have been largely previously undiscovered! Not only do they rock it out, whether singing, dancing or playing in the band, but they can also act to the point where an emotional connection is inevitable.
It’s great to see the children’s stories explored in more depth in the stage musical. The act one number ‘If Only You Could Listen’ was a personal highlight, with gorgeous harmonies and without doubt providing an powerful, and slightly heartbreaking, moment that I didn’t think the show would reach.
However it’s the children that make this show, and unfortunately when they aren’t on stage the show tends to simmer. It took a good ten to fifteen minutes for the show to really get going. It was never bad enough to ruin what is a great night out by any means, but it makes most of the adult numbers feel slightly unnecessary, which is a shame as they are performed well.
West End’s Dewey Finn, David Fynn, has maybe the hardest job on his hands – recreating the much-loved caricature that Jack Black made famous without producing a carbon copy. Luckily this is barely a problem, and manages to make the part his own without forgetting the fundamental character traits that make Dewey ultimately integral to the children’s lives.
Despite some brief slow moments, this show inches into four-star territory for many reasons. Yes, the children are THAT brilliant. The adult cast, including Preeya Kalidas, Florence Andrews and Oliver Jackson, is similarly talented, it’s merely their characters that do not seem to match up to the kids. The staging is fantastic, with a multi-layered moving set that is perfectly designed for the show. The lighting was outstanding, which is not something I tend to notice in a show unless it’s on point. The majority of the music is great and there are some fantastic touches throughout the show, my favourite being the adult band coming out of their box to rock out to the School of Rock’s first big gig.
Small flaws aside, this show cannot fail to make you feel like you’re ‘in the band’. It’s one heck of a concert, yet it still builds a passionate and convincing message of child empowerment that you’d expect from a musical… let your children shine for who they really are!
School of Rock is booking until 12th February at the New London Theatre.
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton