As big a hit now on the West End as on Broadway, School of Rock has cemented its place as Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s return to the top.
School of Rock is not highbrow art by any stretch, but the show is expertly crafted as a sure-fire crowd pleaser, and if you are not grinning and clapping along at the big Battle of the Bands finale then you might as well just stay home.
When you are one of musical theatre’s most powerful players you have a great many talented friends to call upon for collaboration. Glenn Slater has contributed the lyrics for Lloyd Webber’s catchy rock score, with Julian Fellowes penning the feel-good book. “You’re in the Band” is arguably the best song about teaching kids music since “Do Re Mi,” and “Stick it to the Man” is a similarly energetic show-stopping anthem.
Based on the 2003 movie, the stage show expands upon the kids’ lives to a greater extent. One of the cleverest aspects of the scenario itself is that misfit slacker Dewey Finn thinks he is subverting education by teaching the kids to rock, but, in actual fact, the style of themed, collaborative, open-ended project the kids undertake is exactly the learning format that expensive grammar schools thrive upon.
Director Laurence Connor keeps energy sky high and storytelling clear and broad. Whereas as the Broadway production has a dedicated cast of children, the West End production has three sets, so it is a credit to the talent of the cast, and to Connor’s hard work, that the children at this performance are as perfect for their music, singing, acting and dancing as they are. Joann M Hunter’s choreography appears to be as much fun the cast to perform as it is for the audience to watch.
The curve of the stage and rake of the New London Theatre auditorium give the show a highly appropriate rock concert vibe. Anna Louizos’ large-scale sets have been adapted to the semi in the round configuration. The almost nonstop flow of scenic elements must be a logistical nightmare but makes for a dynamic, fluid show. Natasha Katz delivers traditional music theatre lighting as well as authentic rock concert effects.
As Dewey Finn, David Fynn performs with such uninhibited energy that he is saturated by the end of act one. Offstage life must include a decent eating regime to maintain the requisite stocky frame of the character. Fynn performs the epic role with stamina and gusto, developing a believably close relationship between Finn (known as Mr Schneebly for most of the show) and his young charges.
Florence Andrews handles the high notes of uptight principal, and closet soprano, Rosalie Mullins with ease. Preeya Kalidas looks sensational, as ever, and is a good sport in playing nagging girlfriend and interfering do-gooder Patty di Marco.
Standouts from the children at this performance included Isabelle Methven as alpha student Summer, Jake Slack as sensational lead guitarist Zack, and Adithi Sujith, who delivers an unwavering a capella solo when meek new student Tomika fills comes out of her shell.
The Australian season of School of Rock can surely not be far off at this point.
School of Rock was reviewed 7.30pm Saturday 7 January 2017.
School of Rock plays at New London Theatre.
Man in Chair reviewed School of Rock on Broadway in April 2016.
Photos: Tristam Kenton