School of Rock … stick it to the man

MUSIC OWL AWARD3rd – to go to with family

When I went: 6 February 2017

Music Owl Hoot rating: 3/5

Location: New London Theatre, London

Performers: David Fynn (Dewey Finn), Florence Andrews (Rosalie Mullins), Oliver Jackson (Ned Schneebly), Preeya Kalidas (Patty di Marco), Jonathan Bourne (Gabe/Jeff/Billy’s dad), Nadeem Crowe (Ned/Mr Spencer), Michelle Francis (Mrs Bingham), Rosanna Hyland (Mrs Hathaway), Cassandra McCowen (Mrs Turner), Joel Montague (Stanley/Mr Williams), Andy Rees (Mr Mooneyham/Snake), Cameron Sharp (Theo), Andrew Spillett (Drummer/Police Officer), Lucy Vandi (Ms Sheinkopf), Toby Lee (Zack), Bailey Cassell (Freddy), Giles Carden (Lawrence), Lois Jenkins (Katie), Isabelle Methven (Summer), Leah Levman (Marcy), Jaydah Bell-Ricketts (Shonelle), Lola Moxom (Sophie), Adithi Sujith (Tomeka), Jobe Hart (Billy), Presley Charman (Mason), Bradley Bissett (James), Jacob Swann (Matthew)

Creative team: Andrew Lloyd Webber (composer), Julian Fellowes (book), Glenn Slater (lyrics), Laurence Connor (director), JoAnn M Hunter (choreographer), Anna Louizos (scenic and costume designer), Matt Smith (musical director)

Approximate price: £95

Special points: Energy, playing instruments live on stage

Best bit: Stick It to the Man

If I could change one thing: Less uneven book

Review:

The musical:

When someone mentions School of Rock, most people will think of the 2003 film featuring Jack Black leaping around with a guitar, doing that gurning exuberant thing that Jack Black does best. The music in the film was mostly covers of rock ‘classics’ and the story followed Jack Black’s hapless teacher Dewey and his attempts to introduce rock into his class’s lives as a roundabout way of making rent.

The stage musical takes the same plot with some new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater. I was a big fan of their collaboration on Love Never Dies, and a few of the numbers work equally well here, but on the whole this musical is not chock-full of great songs. My favourite songs were Stick It to the Man and You’re In The Band, which were full of energy and conviction.

The book is a little uneven; the classroom scenes make the most of the humour in the relationships between Dewey and his students, but the scenes at Dewey’s home with his friend Ned and his girlfriend Patty feel like filler, and don’t yield any great songs either. It is also hard to believe that Dewey would get away with pretending to be the teacher Ned for so long without being caught.

There are some feminist statements scattered within this work, with young female students discussed as future American Presidents and showing early awareness of the gender pay gap, but there are also mis-steps, such as when Summer calls groupies ‘sluts’ and is not convincingly corrected by Dewey. Pop culture references are sprinkled in there too to emphasise that this is a ‘new’ work, and Andrew Lloyd Webber even makes fun of his own song Memory from Cats at one point. It was good to see a mix of characters within the families – some same-sex parenting couples, and casting allowing for different races within families.

This performance:

The performance began with a recorded announcement from Andrew Lloyd Webber emphasising that the child actors play their instruments live onstage, and this was great to see; Lois Jenkins playing the bass guitar as Katie was especially impressive.

David Fynn as Dewey pulled out all the stops, and is barely offstage; he has to leap around with tons of energy, play a guitar, belt out numbers, encourage the child actors and maintain a believable paunch so that he stays relatable. He didn’t put a wildly different spin on the character of Dewey to Jack Black’s take but that wasn’t a problem. Florence Andrews as Rosalie Mullins has a killer voice and her performance of the number Where Did The Rock Go added some poignancy to the musical and also hammers home the importance of Dewey’s mission to bring rock music and passion into the children’s lives. It also made me want to hang out in more American rock-themed bars.

For some reason the ushers either side of our row kept moving around and even walking in front of us at one point, which was annoyingly distracting; they might have been trying to stop an errant audience member from filming, but it would have been better if they could have put a stop to this more efficiently.

This would be a great show to go to with children, especially if they are learning or interested in learning an instrument – there are lots of inspirational moments and funny touches.

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