School of Rock - The Musical - 16 November 2016 Review

It's an awesome rush when they play

There's no way you can stop the School of Rock, Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest smash-hit musical to crash-land onto the London stage. It's been a while since Lloyd Webber last had a hit, with Love Never Dies and Stephen Ward closing much earlier than predicted. But School of Rock confirms the musical theatre King is back, and back with vengeance.

Based on the well-known 2003 film starring Jack Black, School of Rock is the story of Dewey Finn, a rockstar wannabe who masquerades as a substitute teacher in order to earn some dollar. Not only does School of Rock feature one of Lloyd Webber's best scores to date, packed full of catchy, toe-tapping songs, but it also includes a surprisingly funny book by Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes. Several lines from the original film are placed here and there, but only the best and most memorable (cue “you're tacky and I hate you”), and Fellowes ensures the script is pretty much up to date.

David Fynn successfully carries the story as down-and-out rockstar wannabe Dewey, not noticeably imitating Black, but putting his own, more toned-down spin on the accidental substitute teacher. Florence Andrews stands out as uptight headteacher Rosalie Mullins; a role that could easily end up stale and prissy is transformed into an emotional, heartfelt part - “Where Did the Rock Go” was a particularly blissful change of tone in the musical.

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And whilst there is excellent support across the board, it's the children who are the stars. They are simply stupendous. Before casting took place, Lloyd Webber was concerned it could be a disaster, but he should never have worried. There is more talent here than at any Battle of the Bands concert. On this particular night, the cast featured Tom Abisgold as Zack, Nicole Dube as Tomika, Jude Harper-Wrobel as Freddy, James Lawson as Lawrence and the simply outstanding Lois Jenkins as Katie, whose bass is actually bigger than her. It's an awesome rush when they play – the orchestra stand and watch them to prove it's all them, and the kids just completely rock out.

“You're in the Band” is packed full of punch and boundless energy – along with “Stick it to the Man”. But it's the well-known finale that is anticipated throughout the show – here renamed “Teacher's Pet” - and boy, it is some finale. With a musical solo from each of the young-uns, it's simply proof that the talent in this industry is limitless, regardless of age.

Most of all, the message deep within School of Rock really hits home. When Arts funding is being cut and subjects removed from the school curriculum, School of Rock is a more necessary musical than ever, teaching the vitality of music in discovering who you are, expressing yourself and learning to work with others. It's a bona fide hit, with a resonating message that makes you want to stand up and “stick it to the man”.

star-rating-5.0

Reviewed by Susannah Rose Martin.
16 November 2016, New London Theatre
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Booking until 13 January 2019