School of Rock, Bristol Hippodrome and touring

ANDREW Lloyd Weber, composer of, amongst others, Evita, Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Julian Fellowes, author of Downton Abbey and Aristocrats, are hardly the first names that would come to mind if you were looking for a composer and someone to adopt the script of a cult film comedy set in a New York school.

Both men were reluctantly introduced to the film by their children, and to their surprise found the it highly entertaining.

When,  after a seven year quest and his wife’s determined backing, Andrew Lloyd Weber obtained the rights to School for Rock, he invited Fellowes to adapt the book, and he promptly moved the action to a British private school. Anyone who may have had any doubts about these two gentlemen’s ability to successfully make such a transference, at the same time keeping the vibrant drive and enthusiasm of the 2003 film, will have those doubts laid to rest after this production.

To describe Lloyd Webber’s score as “in your face” would be putting it mildly. Each number comes sailing straight at you and lands with a thump like a custard pie hitting its target. An eight piece adult band, and the children when given the opportunity, ensure that you are left in doubt that this show is about Rock Music. It’s loud, it’s brash, it’s unforgiving – just as failed pop band member, Dewey Finn, who impersonates a friend and becomes an improbable music teacher, demands.

Jake Sharp’s Dewey walks, or rather wobbles, along the straight line between flamboyant playing and overacting like someone trying to convince a police surgeon that they are sober. Sure-footed as a Chamois goat, even when belting out numbers with raw enthusiasm, he manages to stay just on the right side of the line.

Matching him every step of the way are a group of 12 children who play, sing and deliver their dialogue in a determined manner that makes sure that even the deafest member of the audience sitting in the back row will hear and understand them. The programme names 42 youngsters as playing these roles during the tour, we were not told who was actually playing the evening we attended. Which is a pity because not only were they good as a group, there was also some excellent individual performances which deserved special praise.

My one worry for this group of talented youngsters was the that virtually all of their input, vocally and dramatically, was delivered, presumably at the instructions of the director and MD, at full power. I’m sure that they had the ability to bring much more subtlety to their work, and in doing so would have safeguarded their voices for future performances.

Against such fierce opposition, the adult characters had to struggle for any space to show their abilities, and it says much for Rebecca Lock’s vocal and dramatic talents that she made such a big impression as the buttoned-up headmistress, Rosalie Mullins, who bursts out, like the audience, swept along on this wave of energetic music.

Be warned that next year, School for Rock – the Musical may break out in your area like an epidemic of measles. From 1st January 2023, Andrew Lloyd Webber has announced that the show will be available in the UK and Ireland for amateurs and youth groups.

In the meantime, if you would like to catch up with this full-blooded production, you can see it at Cardiff Millennium Centre from 16th to 21st May, Southampton Mayflower Theatre from18th to 23rd July or Bournemouth Pavilion from 8th to 13th August.


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