School of Rock the Musical review
Time Out says
Andrew Lloyd Webber takes on a classic Jack Black comedy in this winning new musical
Has there ever been a better time to be a prodigiously talented child performer in Sydney? Billy Elliot the Musical has just opened with its fleet of all-singing, all-dancing miniature triple threats, and there are some adorable roles for youngsters in Shrek the Musical, Fun Home and Frozen just around the corner.
But the kids of School of Rock the Musical are something truly special – together, they don’t just form the ensemble for a musical, but a kick-ass rock group ready to rival plenty of grown-up bands.
Their presence is absolutely essential for this stage version of the Jack Black-led 2003 film about a charming slacker who teaches a group of private school kids how to rock. In fact, they’re the musical’s driving force and bring more rockstar cred to the stage than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s songs and Julian Fellowes’ book.
Things stick pretty closely to the film: Dewey Finn (Brent Hill) is a wannabe rockstar who assumes the identity of his roommate, a substitute teacher, to earn a little extra cash. He ends up at Horace Green, an ultra-competitive private elementary school, where the kids’ only creative outlet is classical music. They’re extraordinarily talented, but Dewey is keen to release their inner rockstars so he can win the Battle of the Bands. But there are significant obstacles in his way, not least of which is principal Rosalie Mullins (Amy Lehpamer), whose primary role is to ensure the kids achieve their parents’ dreams of getting into a top-tier university.
By the end Dewey has turned the kids into rock gods, but the real transformation comes from the adults: Dewey learns how to use his passion in a more generous way, and Rosalie reconnects with her own joy. Hill brilliantly traces this arc, powered by a buzzy, scrappy energy that feels true to Jack Black’s spirit without being an imitation. Lehpamer has less to work with – the uptight professional woman who lets her hair down with the help of a man is a bit of a cliché – but is equally captivating.
The story is told with plenty of clarity, so audiences of all ages will know exactly what’s happening and where the stakes are, even if this production feels a little fuzzy when it comes to the finer emotional details. That doesn’t matter too much when Lloyd Webber’s music (a straight-down-the-line style of rock) kicks in. Although Glenn Slater’s lyrics aren’t too distinctive, this show has some of Lloyd Webber’s strongest melodies in a while, particularly the rousing ‘Stick it to the Man’ and Rosalie’s melancholic ‘Where Did the Rock Go?’, which absolutely soars in Lehpamer’s hands. Then there’s the all-too-deliberate tear-jerker ‘If Only You Would Listen’, in which the kids plead with their parents for understanding. Yes, you can feel your heartstrings being plucked harder than any instrument on stage, but it’s difficult to resist these kids.
On opening night they included: Zane Blumeris, whose guitar solos could put plenty of adults to shame, Cherami Mya Remulta as bassist Katie, Jude Hyland as keyboard player Lawrence, Cooper Alexis as drummer Freddy and Sabina Felias as Tomika. But arguably the best dramatic performance came from Deeanna Cheong Foo as Summer, the ultra-organised and super-smart prodigy who is the only character on stage who properly has their shit together.
Like pretty much everything in this musical, she’s painted in broad brushstrokes, but they mostly get their point across. The show doesn’t have the same texture as, say, Tim Minchin’s Matilda, another musical about kids overcoming an oppressive regime of parenting and teaching to find their own self-expression. But it does hit most of the right notes with confidence, and it is a fun ride from start to finish. And seeing a youngster rocking out on an instrument almost as big as they are? That’s something that doesn’t happen every day.