Rock opera aficionado, Andrew Lloyd Webber continues to stick it to The Man with his wildest West End offering that has finally hit Manchester theatres. Playing out an infectious 109-minute tribute to rock, the musical follows hapless teacher, Dewey Finn and his class of rebellious private school students.
Expelled from his band for playing too many 20-minute solos and desperate for rent money, wannabe rock star Dewey decides to con his way into a new gig. Fiddling his way into his roommates’ job as a teaching assistant at the prestigious Horace Green school, Dewey soon finds that the kids there could be the perfect stand-ins for his new (yet to be named) band.
School of Rock’s laidback storyline is a whimsical treat that is difficult to dislike, however, the live musical that revamps the 2003 film starring Jack Black includes an original score and lyrics by Webber and Glen Slater (The Little Mermaid / Sister Act) for added momentum. Providing the lightweight story with additional spirit for the Palace theatre stage, the talented Alex Tomkins as Dewey gets to flaunt his singing chops and scenery-chewing skills. Tending to all the childlike actions that his prep school bandmates lack, including spit takes and a hilarious acapella skilled solo, the show is awash with fantastically nerdy and eccentric characters.
After deceiving his way into teaching the shy and geeky group of year 6’s, Dewey soldiers on despite his lack of a degree, forced to convince the students and staff that he is not a sketchy tutor with ulterior motives. Even as he hands out prestigious band titles like groupie. Playing against the straight-faced and reliable Rosaline (Rebecca Lock) whose ritualistic approach to education threatens to burst the bubble of Dewey’s high voltage, experimental teachings. The show benefits from Lock’s lighter, operatic touch against the copious scenes that focus on Dewey’s immaturity, and Lock’s vocals are incredible.
Improving on the limits of the film, the added soundtrack and narrative tweaks offer a few entertaining riffs to the original story. Director Lawrence Connor layers the sets, seamlessly moving from bedroom to classroom while refusing to play out all the musical numbers as a straightforward concert. With only a few performances being delivered with a pitch-black backdrop that focuses on the fantastic acoustics and talent of its young cast, the show offers the same level of spectacle expected of an Andrew Lloyd Webber rock musical.
While the production's sets and direction are a clean affair, the real stars of the show are the immensely talented collection of kids on stage. The remarkable vocal performances of Souparnika Nair (Tomika) across from Marikit Akiwumi’s (Katie) bass playing skills are a thrill to watch. The youngsters who form The School of Rock are all brilliant, but the standout, smarty-pants talents of Summer (Florrie May Wilkinson) are worth the live adaption alone. This warm production is full of enthusiastic routines that balance the school’s prim and proper approach. With songs including Here at Horace Green played before Dewy injects some Zeplin into the class and a classic performance of In the End of Time is offered as a winning contender for the Battle of the Bands.
Bringing the group together in the hopes of winning the competition, the inspiring kids of Horace Green, harness all the power of rock to layer this familiar story with captivating musical performances. With Webber's signature, the show remains an attractive musical that is high in energy and offers plenty of belly laughs from its slapstick, youthful sense of humour.
Tickets are available via the ATG link