Friday, 02 December 2016

School of Rock

Andrew Lloyd Webber discovers his heavy metal side in a musical version of the much-loved Jack Black comedy

Written by Richard Barber

However hard someone tightened the thumbscrews, you’d never guess the newest musical excursion that unites two lords of the realm, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Julian Fellowes. It was prompted by the former’s wife, Madeleine, who watched her children’s delight at the 2003 film starring Jack Black, which she found ‘hilarious, charming and touching’. She pursued the stage rights for six years, finally landing them in 2012.

And so School of Rock first played to great acclaim on Broadway, and has now landed in London, a noisy show with a big heart which will please anyone over the age of eight and would prove excellent family fare over the festive season – assuming, of course, you can get tickets.

But then, who couldn’t warm to David Fynn’s unwashed slob, a man-child on a mission to convert his class of posh prep school kids into what he hopes will be a contest-Richard-Barber-colour-176winning rock band. The audience, like the children themselves, quite quickly get caught up in his enthusiasms, with as many whoops coming from the auditorium as from the stage.

He’s got the job under false pretences, assuming the identity of his housemate, Ned (Oliver Jackson), to whom he never pays rent, much to the irritation of Ned’s partner, Patty (Preeya Kalidas). It takes an implausible amount of time for his deception to be uncovered, but who cares? This is cartoon country, with Julian Fellowes nonetheless throwing in enough good jokes to keep the more mature audience members chuckling throughout.

Andrew LW’s score is suitably heavy metal-based – indeed, you wouldn’t know he was the composer for many of the numbers. But then he’ll soften with an aching ballad from the students, If Only You Would Listen, or the lament from Miss Mullins, the school’s buttoned-up principal (lovely stuff from Florence Andrews), Where Did The Rock Go?

So, what of the junior members of the cast? Pre-teen performers can often fall somewhere between precocious and cloying. Not here. Under Laurence Connor’s deft direction, there isn’t a bum note in the show, and the talented youngsters individually demonstrate their astonishing musical prowess – everyone from Toby Lee as Zack on guitar to Noah Key as Freddy on drums and Amma Ris as shy Tomika, her a cappella rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ bringing the house down.

Yes, it’s a bit loud (as you’d expect), which sometimes swamps Glenn Slater’s witty song lyrics, but you’d have to be a dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon not to want to enrol in the School of Rock.
Until February 12 2017 at the New London Theatre, London WC2: 0844 811 0052,

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