Tweetingit: 4* Unemployed rock guitarist blags his way into prep school and teaches kids to rock. A routine score is saved by a fantastically talented cast.
It seems appropriate the Gillian Lynne Theatre was re-named in honour of the legendary choreographer. Arguably her finest work Cats played at this theatre for twenty one years. Now School of Rock is firmly established as a fixture in the West End calendar.
It represents something of a departure for composer Andrew Lloyd Webber; for one so enamoured of lush orchestral arrangements, he has written a score reminiscent of soft rock darlings Whitesnake. The musical is based on the 2003 film starring Jack Black and Joan Cusack. Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes was recruited to write the book, but can’t imagine what he added to the original screenplay. The premise is a fairly simple one; guitarist Dewey Finn (Craig Gallivan) has been dumped by his band No Vacancy. He lodges with old high school buddy Ned Schneebly (Alan Pearson); but hasn’t tipped up any rent so it’s time to shape up or ship out.
Somehow he manages to steal Ned’s teaching job at the prestigious Horace Green prep school. He soon clashes with school Principal Rosalie Mullins (Laura Tebbutt). Dewey gradually turns his class into a rock band comprised of guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. Other classmates become backing singers and roadies. They are later ready to enter a battle of the bands where they will be up against Dewey’s old band No Vacancy: the battle is ready to commence!
An amazing cast totally smashed it, but it was the kids who inevitably stole the show. Interestingly, a recorded introduction featuring Andrew Lloyd Webber was played before the show started. It made clear that kids featured in the band did actually play their instruments. It felt like a protest made too loudly as I pondered whether they were actually playing. With four guitarists, two keyboard players and a drummer in the grown-up band it’s likely they were synching.
But hey, did it really matter one way or the other; these kids can sing, dance and act, do they really want to give the impression they can play an instrument too? Lloyd Webber’s intervention felt increasingly like an own goal. A painfully thin plot wobbled like crazy and the songs felt dreadfully dated nestling in the adult orientated rock sub-genre. Nevertheless, it seemed to matter not one jot as the audience lapped up every moment. Unusually for a Lloyd Webber musical there are no obvious standalone hits; the only exception being Where did the rock go beautifully sung by Laura Tebbutt. Overall, it was great fun to watch performances brimming with so much energy.
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book: Julian Fellowes
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Original Screenplay: Mike White
Director: Laurence Connor
Musical Director: Matt Smith
Choreographer: Joann M. Hunter
Producers: The Really Useful Group and Warner Music Group
Box Office: 020 7087 7750
Booking Until: 5 January 2020