Over Christmas, I had the pleasure of going to see one of my favourite films of all time adapted into a stage show – ‘School of Rock the Musical’ at the New London Theatre. Being a hard-core fan of the movie, I was a little sceptical about the idea to transform this classic film, starring the legend (in my opinion) Jack Black, into an all-singing, all-dancing, potentially cheesy musical, but I have to say I was blown away.
One of the first things you notice watching this show is the bright and colourful set which perfectly depicts the different settings from the movie, adapted to fit on-stage. The set changes were slick and seamless which usually lets me know early on that I’m in for a performance with an efficient cast and crew, allowing me to sit back and immerse myself in the world of the show.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original songs composed especially for the stage adaptation begin seconds into the performance, written superbly to match the rock style of the songs from the movie. New songs such as ‘When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock’ and ‘You’re in the Band’ had the audience tapping their feet from the get-go and Rosalie Mullins’ (played by Florence Andrews) solo ‘Where Did the Rock Go?’ described the heartache she feels about leaving her more adventurous Rock and Roll past behind her and had us reaching for the tissues. An audience favourite was ‘Stick it to the Man’, an energy-filled declaration of rebellion against those who bring you down. This one was so fun and catchy that as we left the theatre, most of the audience were still humming it.
Gary Trainor (also played by David Flynn in the majority of the performances) took on the challenging role of Dewey Finn and successfully built the persona of lazy and smart-mouthed mixed with sweet and lovable that Jack Black does in the movie. His energy never faltered, meeting the demands of the passionate and hyperactive nature of the character, and was commendable to watch. The classic Dewey one-liners caused hilarity amongst the audience, and the additional lines added into this show had the same effect. His great comedic timing and passion led the show with ease without ever treading on the kids’ toes.
Trainor effortlessly captured the characteristics of a nerdy wannabe rock-star and an adult-come-kid who refuses to grow up.
The audience were told by Andrew Lloyd Webber through a voice-clip played at the start of the show that the cast of kids that make up Dewey’s band actually play their instruments live on-stage. Considering some of these actors are as young as 10, this was an incredible fact to learn and meant the performance was all the more impressive and outstanding to watch. The stage-show also added depth to the students’ characters and gave us a closer look into their minds and feelings as they ask their parents to accept them for who they are with the song ‘If Only You Would Listen’. There was a twinge of cheese when it came to this number, but mostly it was a touching moment that made the audience think about their own experiences growing up and discovering who they really were, as well as being another showcase of the fantastic skills of the young cast; this time, their singing talents.
The show gradually built up to the main event; the Battle of the Bands scene, where laser lighting and set were used to transport the audience from watching a West-End show to feeling like they were at an actual music gig. This moment was explosive and as the lights dazzled the crowd, everyone was up on their feet clapping and dancing – a pretty impressive feat when it comes to the reserved, shy nature of a British audience. The show’s title number was worth waiting for and was performed with outstanding enthusiasm.
School of Rock the Musical will suit any age, whether you’ve seen the film or have never even heard of it. And most importantly, if you’re defensive over the original production like I was, you won’t feel like the movie is being undercut. If anything, you’ll feel as if you’re watching a new and improved version of the movie, but with the added excitement of it being live.