SCHOOL OF ROCK
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyricis by Glenn Slater
Book by Julian Fellowes
directed by Laurence Connor
choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter
NEW LONDON THEATRE
Review by Clive Burton
Swept along by the feverish excitement of School of Rock, you might be forgiven for thinking that this was the first musical to channel the inner rock god inside Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Despite several previous excursions into the genre during his career – from Phantom to Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita – he has seldom seemed on surer musical territory than this latest show: a rocking crowd pleaser on every level, it emerges as one of the most engaging shows Lloyd Webber has penned in a long time.
Superbly served by an outstanding young cast and fellow creatives, School of Rock was completed in record time: once the seven year battle to secure the rights of the 2003 film was won by wife, Madeleine, fellow writers (Glen Slater, lyrics, and Julian ‘Downton’ Fellowes, book) had the show creatively up and running for its Broadway opening in little over a year.
Fellowes closely adheres to the narrative dictated by the movie and a lot of his lines sound familiar already, the main concessions to British audiences being a sly PPI reference slipped in during the course of a phone conversation, and the Union Jack trainers sported at the climax by its rock hero, David Fynn’s likeably slobby, Dewey Finn (the Jack Black movie role).
Fired from his own band, guitarist Dewey is behind with the rent and desperately needs funds to pay his bills – which he is able to do by stepping in (anonymously) to the teaching shoes of his friend Ned, when a supply cover is needed at an expensive private school.
Accepting the job with the caveat that he is paid in cash to avoid both tax and the discovery of his real identity, the semi-literate Dewey finds a class comprising talented young classical musicians whom he sets about moulding into a clandestine rock’n’roll band to enter a "Battle of The Bands" competition with all the kudos that goes with it – and a cash prize of $20,000 that would overcome his short-term money problems.
The sharp-eyed (and -eared) in the audience will latch on to moments that stretch their already-wide perma-grins to breaking point, including an excerpt from Mozart’s ‘Queen of the Night’ aria smuggled delightfully into the score by snobby School Principal, Florence Andrews’ disciplinarian Rosalie Mullins – a closet Stevie Nicks’ fan who belatedly declares her love for Dewey.
Similar borrowings flit in and out of this eclectic show as its Hogwarts-style sets suddenly morph into a collegiate setting reminiscent of Legally Blonde (with a ‘bend and snap’ moment all its own.)
The exuberant second act opener, ‘Time to Play’, brings its own cryptic delights with the Rachmaninov slow Paganini variation ALW referenced in Song and Dance.
Laurence Connor’s effervescent staging handles his juvenile leads (a roster of 39 kids drawn from across the three teams needed to comply with UK regulations) with aplomb although from my Front Stalls seat, many of the group lyrics lacked clarity.
Each audience member will adopt his/her own particular favourite and become a proud parent rooting for their offspring: some will select Joshua Vaughan’s beatific Vogue-reading Billy, while others will cheer the rock-solid beat of Jude Harper-Wrobels drummer, Freddy or admire Eva Trodd’s ballsily determined Summer. All are beyond praise.
And, being American in subject matter, School of Rock provides ‘issues’ to overcome in the students’ plaintive Anthem ‘If Only You Would Listen’ with each pupil seeking to find a voice through which to communicate the thwarted talents and ambitions which have been stifled by over-ambitious parenting.
By entering ‘The Battle of The Bands’, Dewey releases the best in himself as a rock star manqué who succeeds in realising the full potential of School of Rock, winning over parents, teachers and audiences along the way with a phenomenally entertaining show that ALW was born to write.
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7.30pm,
Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm, Sundays at3pm
Running time: approximately 2 hours 30 minutes including interval
Prices: £25.00 - £75.00
All ticket prices include a £1.50 restoration levy. No booking fee via official box office channels
Box Office: 0844 811 0052