I had some concerns about seeing School of Rock; I hadn’t seen the film, though as The Lion King, Aladdin, Spamalot, the upcoming American in Paris are amongst many screen to stage adaptations that have worked it wasn’t a valid concern. I was anxious about all the children that would be on stage but again, Billy Elliott and Matilda are both shows that have excellent child actors. Plus, America had made a shocking decision and it was going to take a lot to cheer me up.
School of Rock did just that, the opening, in contrast to The Lion King, feels very cold. We see a character we do not yet know performing with a band we do not care about and School of Rock doesn’t really get going until Dewey Finn (David Flynn) finds himself teaching in a posh school pretending to be his teacher friend Ned Schneebly (Oliver Jackson) who he owes rent and Schneebly’s girlfriend Patty (Preeya Kalidas, most well-known for Eastenders and Bend It Like Beckham the musical) isn’t willing to tolerate Dewey’s slacking any longer. This fantastic adaptation by Julian Fellowes more than makes up for the slow start by keeping up the energy and not expecting its audience to know the film or even much of the story. Fellowes has also created a show that I hope lots of young people will perform in clubs and schools and really get behind. Downton Abbey this isn’t!
The key factor is Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of British musicals most famous composers, whilst there have been duds in recent years the Lord seems to have found his strength in returning to his rock roots and also making the decision to open School of Rock in New York, rather than London and it is a decision that has paid off. His partnership with lyricist Glenn Slater is a perfect match, especially as Slater has worked with Disney composer Alan Menken. The stand out tracks were Florence Andrews as Rosalie Mullins singing Where Did The Rock Go feels very Jesus Christ Superstar or even Phantom of the Opera (as well as some The Queen of the Night's Aria thrown in the first act) but the real highlight is when Flynn and the talented cast of children (who sing and play their own instruments) just rock out and look like they are having an excellent time. It feels, as my friend said, energetic and life affirming. Stick It to the Man is a track I want to stomp around and sing in my bedroom to.
It is a great antidote to what a grim year 2016 has been. I will be amazed in Flynn isn’t nominated for Best Musical Actor this year as it is an energetic, exhausting and stunning performance and whilst I wish him a great future in School of Rock I also hope to see him in other shows as this is a talent the London stage deserves.
Please note: Opinions expressed on the londontheatredirect.com blog are those of the relevant contributors, not of London Theatre Direct Ltd, its owners or staff. London Theatre Direct Ltd is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by contributors.