If there was one way that Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber could really show off his belief that music and that learning to play a musical instrument can be life changing for children, it is by making a musical of the 2003 hit movie ‘The School Of Rock’. In the movie, the children of Horace Green are given rock instruments by a stand in teacher and suddenly discover all of this talent and potential that they may not have realised they had before. Playing their instruments gives them the confidence to be who they really are and stand up to their pushy parents. The whole idea that music as a whole can have a huge impact on children’s lives is brought to life by the cast of children playing their rock instruments live on stage every performance.
The story is created by the adults of the show, Dewey Finn played by Gary Trainer is the central character, a layabout rock star wannabe late on the rent for a room in his best friend Ned’s (Oliver Jackson) apartment, spending his days sulking about being kicked out of his own rock band. When the opportunity comes up to step into Ned’s shoes and pretend to be a substitute teacher at Horace Green with a big paycheque up for grabs, Dewey can not resist. He is greeted by Rosalie Mullins (Florence Andrews), a stickler for the rules as headmistress of the school, who tries to put him firmly in his place but Dewey isn’t one to take no for an answer especially when he discovers that the kids in his class can really rock out.
And it is that class of talented little rock stars that really steal the show. Their performances are worth the ticket price alone. These children have the ability to fully rock out with their instruments and pull at the heart strings of everyone in the audience at the same time. The song ‘If only you would listen’ from Act one highlights this ability to the highest standard as the children sing of their struggles to be truly understood by their parents as they are pushed to achieve rather than just being allowed to be who they want to be.
Stella Haden shines as class leading Summer Hathaway, commanding attention and putting Dewey in his place at any given moment. ‘Time to shine’ an Act Two showstopping number is her real moment in the spotlight as she bosses her class mates around, fully believing that the Battle of The Bands will help her get into a great college. Jake Slack leads the band incredibly well as guitarist Zack, performing his music with everything he has and acting well also. I also loved Archie Lewis as Billy, his one liners had the audience laughing again and again and yet he was also able to make the audience feel for him as he struggled to get his father to understand and respect who he really was.
And of course, I have to mention Jasmine Sakyiama as Tomika. As a character near frozen with shyness for most of the first act, Tomika comes out of her shell for act 2, blowing the roof off of the New London Theatre with her incredible voice. Such power from such a tiny young girl.
When it comes to the staging of this show, I think it does work well but there is only one thing I don’t really like. When the battle of the bands is taking place on the main stage, the cast members playing the parents of the children are placed in the audience by the auditorium doors. Whilst this works well for the concert scene, I found myself torn between wanting to watch the action on stage and wanting to watch them to see their reactions to their children performing their socks off. I wanted to see them both but this was impossible.
I have know seen this show a couple of times and I love it. Sure, some of the songs aren’t that memorable and it’s hard to watch it without thinking of Jack Black as Dewey Finn in the film, but it’s a couple of hours of fun that will leave you wanting to join in and rock out with them, particularly in the concert like finale. The performance of the children is worth the visit alone. I am sure that this show will continue to leave it’s audiences rocking and continue to see further success, just as it has across the pond on Broadway.