Monday, 14 November 2016

Review: School of Rock, New London

"Wreck your room and rip your jeans.
Show ‘em what rebellion means"

The 2003 Jack Black-starring film School of Rock was a big success, trading off its stock talent show plot device with genuine rock music credentials in a soundtrack full of the likes of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and The Doors. So it was a little bit of a surprise to find that Andrew Lloyd-Webber decided to adapt it into an original musical - his version of rock is certainly not the same as that espoused by Dewey Finn, School of (Pop-)Rock perhaps.

But one sticky moment aside (where a snippet of Stevie Nicks' Edge of Seventeen sits awkwardly alongside a rock ballad 'Where Did the Rock Go?' exposing the contrast between the two kinds of rock), this School of Rock is a cheerily appealing slice of musical theatre. And with a seemingly endless role call of talented youngsters who, as we're reminded at the beginning and the end of the show, play all their own instruments live, shows off a wealth of emerging British musical theatre talent.

The story (book by Julian Fellowes) remains movie-predictable. Good-for-nothing aspiring rock star Dewey Finn adopts his flatmate's identity to earn a quick buck as a substitute teacher but when he finds a class of budding musicians at his mercy, co-opts them into forming a rock band who can help him win a local Battle of the Bands contest. Along the way he learns life lessons and so do the kids, their worlds expanded through this alternative musical education.

David Fynn is nigh-on perfect casting for Dewey, a charismatic cross between Jack Black and the impishness of Robin Williams, and Rosanna Hyland (stepping in for Florence Andrews) is fun as a snooty headteacher who eventually lets her inner rock chick out. But it's undoubtedly the kids who are the stars of the show with their extraordinary musicality - the best moment of the show comes when they rock out properly at the contest and the actual band (led by musical director Matt Smith) gather on their balcony to watch them play, further proof that the kids really are alright.

Laurence Connor's production thus marshals its resources well, if offering up little by the way of surprise in Anna Louizos' design or genuine emotional depth, as occasionally hinted at in songs like 'If Only You Would Listen' and the rapprochements of the end. But nevetherless, School of Rock entertains exceedingly in its own way

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Tristram Kenton
Booking until 12th February 2017

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