Directed by Laurence Connor, produced, composed, orchestration by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, book by Julian Fellows.
The 2003 film School of Rock automatically hit the ground running as one of the best films of the year thanks to the cast of kids and their rocking instruments, the feel good ideas about how music can subdue even the strictest of schools and their parents, and of course the tunes and charisma of its lead, Jack Black.
So it only seems fair that the musical legend that is Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (famed for hits such as Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard) found a way to transfer the rocking themes onto the Great White Way.
Last night I was fortunate enough to be at the opening night of this smash-hit as it opened at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre to thunderous applause.
School of Rock – The Musical debuted at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway in 2015 and has since made its way to the West End and around the world.
There are many things to love about this show, whether you’re a fan of the original film (which here translates with ease, most of the lines taken from the script itself), the rocking musical orchestrations of Lloyd Webber, a fan of kid friendly summer shows or whether you’re still an old rock god at heart.
The story itself follows the story of die hard rock fan and “loser” Dewey Finn (tonight played by Brent Hill) as he finds himself kicked out of his own band and desperate to pay rent. He leaches off his housemate and old band partner, the maleable Ned Schneebly (John O’Hara) much to the digust of his over-powering girlfriend Patty (Nadia Komazec). That is until Dewey gets the idea of taking Ned’s name and posing as a high school substitute teacher at the uptight wealthy prep school Horace Green in order to pay the bills.
It’s here that Dewey finds the uptight preppy kids of the school have talents worthy of winning the $20k cash prize at the Battle of the Bands and so Dewey (or Mr. Schneebley) goes about teaching these modern children the importance of sticking it to the man, believing in their talents and most of all, the power of rock!
As Dewey, Brent Hill neither mimics or copies Jack Black’s image but instead brings his own portrayal of the essence that Black brought to the film role. Hill embodies that old rock fan that today’s music has forgotten, he is a relic that is out of his time; one particular scene sees him scream at disgust at the idols of the children today. Hill’s talent comes in his improvising throughout the scenes with the children and the naturally chemistry he has with them. Whilst he is the teacher, he lets the kids have their well deserved moments in the spotlight.
As the uptight Principle, Rosalie, Amy Lehpamer lets loose when hearing Stevie Nix and allowed the audience to see the crushing pressure she is underneath which is an all too real comment on how schools today have handed their power to the parents and disregarded teachers. Her song “Where has the Rock Gone?” won rapturous applause from the audience.
The supporting ensemble of actors that played multiple roles from rock stars to the parents all supported the show, but the real stars of this is the kids themselves. Before you think it, yes, they play all their own instruments live, even the announcement before the show reminds us of this. The chills moment is seeing the band pit members standing and rocking along to the kids in their final number.
Every one of these kids were clearly having the time of their lives up on the stage, all of them chewing the scenery every chance they got.
The children’s cast is on a constant rotate so tonight we were greeted with Deaana Cheong Foo with the ever so sassy and next President of the world, Summer, Jude Hyland rocking it as a “sex god” Lawrence on keys, Sabina Rutledge with the superstar voice of Tomika, Brendan Rutledge as their rockin’ lead guitarist Zak, Cooper Alexis slamming it out on the drums as Freddy and Samantha Zhang slapping the bass as Katie. They were all supported by other members of the classroom that each had their own moments to shine throughout.
Every one of these kids were clearly having the time of their lives up on the stage, all of them chewing the scenery every chance they got. Whether it was Rutledge giving us chills with her solos and mini-Beyonce voice or Hyland melting our hearts as his doubt of being “cool enough” to be in the band was a real life struggle, the kids are what you come to see.
It was clear that Cheong Foo’s Summer was the vessle for comments on feminism today, getting two feminist power lines that got the crowd cheering.
The scenic and costume design of Anna Louizos helped the show seem simple enough so as to never drown out the actors and had plenty of space to give the actors enough room to play with. I would have liked to have more scenes stretched towards the audience to make it more three dimensional, especially with how much there could be to play with at the rock concert of the finale. A nice touch was adding the topic of the classroom as Climate Control, a good little dig at the politics that are currently being shunned here in Australia.
In essence, School of Rock will captivate the kids these summer holidays and give the parents something to rock their heads to as they relive the music that made names such as Freddie Mercury and Jimmy Hendrix big, as well as being namedropped in the show itself.
To put it simply, these kids rock!
Stin’s Final Thought: While being politically “woke” some shows still can’t seem to make same-sex couples as the butt of jokes. Perhaps shows like The Prom will help to change this.
School of Rock is now playing at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, London’s West End and is on tour throughout North America. For tickets and information, click the link below.