Stick It To The Man! SCHOOL OF ROCK: THE MUSICAL at the New London Theatre

I first fell in love with the original School of Rock movie about a decade ago when my Dad got us the DVD and we watched it together. Being a child, it was amazing to see other children of a similar age playing music and enjoying themselves like I loved to do. The film was screaming for a stage musical adaptation and 10 years later, here we are with a show that I think is a perfect homage.

When I imagined School of Rock coming to the stage, I didn’t necessarily imagine that it would be brought along by Andrew Lloyd Webber – the talent behind Phantom and Cats – and Julian Fellowes who wrote Downton Abbey. Neither of their credits seemed to tell me that they would be good for this project (apart from, perhaps, Webber’s work on Jesus Christ Superstar). When the cast album was released a little under a year ago though, I was pleasantly surprised; while some songs are easily forgettable, most of the new additions are showstoppers that fit in perfectly with the songs used from the original film. After waiting for over three and a half years since the show was announced, I left the theatre feeling euphoric and empowered. The kids are so incredibly talented and full of energy and that feeling is infectious and has lasting power, just like this show.

David Fynn as Dewey Finn performing "Stick It To The Man" in School of Rock at the New London Theatre

In comparison to the film, the show is incredibly similar in some ways yet entirely different in others. The first act definitely feels like a carbon copy of the show but with added songs with a lot of the dialogue being identifiably identical to the original Mike White script for the movie. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though because most of the audience have gone to see the show because they enjoyed the original 2003 movie, but I was consciously aware that it was the same. As a result, the songs that did fall slightly flat – which are almost exclusively in Act One – kind of stuck out like a sore thumb and tended to occur in quick succession with no real purpose for their existence. I suppose this is something that is typical of a show that is majorly aimed at children which is absolutely fine and again it didn’t irritate me too much, but it’s just something worth noting. The latter portion of Act One and all of Act Two after we’ve arrived as Horace Green is a delight and getting to see the talented young children come to life was fantastic.

Before the show even begins, Lloyd Webber makes a pre-recorded announcement stating that despite many people saying otherwise, the children on stage do in fact perform with their rock instruments completely live. To prove this even further, you can see the band standing on the edge of their balcony and clapping in moments when the children are playing just to prove that they aren’t playing along behind them. This incredible ensemble of children is overseen by David Fynn as Dewey Finn at most performances but on the afternoon I attended, the role was assumed by his alternate Gary Trainor who was perfect for the role. The mood of the stage musical is very different to the grungey vibe that the film gives off and Trainor manages to balance that feel with a reiteration of Jack Black's performance: much like the script, his performance is identifiably similar to Black's in the original movie, which was good on the most part as most of the audience tend to be fans of the film. His energy was spectacular and it's obvious that he's having the time of his life on that stage, which radiates from him and into the audience.

Florence Andrews as Principal Rosalie Mullins and the children from the company of School of Rock

The team of kids at the performance I attended were superb as well. Particular standouts include: Nicole Dube as Tomika (mine and my Dad's favourite character from the movie); Jude Harper-Wrobel as Freddy who was so impressive on the drums that my Dad and I are still talking about his talent days later; Tom Abisgold as Zack; Joshua Vaughan as Billy who was absolutely hilarious; and Eva Trodd as Summer who got so into the role, I seriously felt like she was in charge of the whole damn show. All of  the kids are sublime be it their ability to play their instruments to perfection, or to their stage presence that rivals the adults they share the spotlight with. The stage musical has made a point of making the children the main focus of the piece and in moments like If Only You Would Listen - a huge vocal number sung by all of the kids in Act One - it almost made me want to cry for how incredibly talented these young people really are. As well as the awesome group of children, stand out performances are also given by the delightful Florence Andrews as Rosalie Mullins who is both hilarious and heartbreaking throughout the course of the show, as well as the always-fantastic Preeya Kalidas who plays Patty. Everything Kalidas touches is perfect and this is no exception.

The production value is impressive as well. The New London Theatre is basically a very modern black box and is perfect for the rock stage moments as a result, which lighting designer Natasha Katz has utilised perfectly. The same praise has to go to Anna Louizos's set design and Laurence Connor's direction to match. Together as a team, they manage to create some of the most seamless and impressive scene changes I have seen in a musical in a long time. So impressive in fact that there were moments when I just sat there thinking about how impressed I was with how seamlessly the whole piece flows visually: if that's something that satisfies you, you'll love it.

Andrew Lloyd Webber emphasises that all of the children play their instruments live in School of Rock

All in all, School of Rock might well be one of the best new musicals to land in London in 2016 and it's most certainly my current go-to recommendation for people who are looking to find something new to see. The passion and energy that fills that auditorium is infectious and it really has that "big heart" feel to it. I'm already working out how to get back down there in the next week or so while also trying to not fall into the trap of an instant obsession, and that's a very hard task to accomplish.

School of Rock is currently booking until April 9th. You can buy tickets here.

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