Tuesday, September 26

School of Rock – Edinburgh Playhouse

I was 7 when I first saw School of Rock in the cinemas, as part of its original release. For me, the film was an instant five stars. Approaching Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production, my fears were rife. Could this film withstand a musical counterpart? Rebellious, unhinged and filled with angst, could it also cope with the slick trappings and stage design of a slick modern west end musical?

It’s more or less the same story we all know and love from the film. Slacker and failed rockstar Dewey Finn (Jack Sharp) is down on his luck and in need of rent. One day he answers a call for a job offer at a prestigious fee paying junior school meant for his flat mate Ned Schneebly. Desperate and posing as Ned, he takes the job, and enters Horace Green School with no clue about pedagogy, but plenty of knowledge about rock. Next thing, this should-be criminal has formed a rock band with the kids on quest to bring back his days as a former rock god and help them defy their parents. Cue a stage of dancing rock stars with enough energy to match an atomic bomb.

School of Rock’s a musical about sticking it to the man. So, it’s a curious situation when two very un-hardcore people are at the helm, Lord Webber and Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes. But Rock is Lloyd Webber’s bread and butter, a genre he’s excelled in since his Jesus Christ Super Star days. Coupled with his work on school favourite- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream coat, this partnership of a fantastic story and a composer who’s got the resources is made in rock-heaven. Coupled with Glen Slater’s lyrics, this musical is faultless in terms of its score and lyrics, and the perfect way to bring this much-loved movie to the stage.

Jack Sharp’s Dewey Finn is a joy, capturing the energy and physical comedy of the original character as portrayed by Jack Black. It’s such a canny performance, and so true to the original performance it’s a comfort to see something so familiar. Indeed, in translating it to the stage, a lot of the subtle nuances of the original comedy have been simplified. Other ‘grown up’ characters seem paper thin, and slightly two dimensional. Sadly, head teacher Rosalie Mullins and her band of staff have been reduced to musical theatre-caricatures. The curious blossoming of Mullin’s friendship with Finn is now mechanically inserted as a love story the musical didn’t need. Fellowes, what were you thinking? That’s not to say, Rebecca Lock gives a stunning vocal performance- which she does with bonus Mozart.

But, in this production, the musical ekes something out that didn’t feature as strongly in the film- the restorative power of music as a form of emotional therapy. For these children, it’s now about just being creative, it’s about being their authentic selves- a powerful message for children emerging into the new and different world of 2022.

It goes without saying, the children are the real stars of the show. They sing, dance, act and play their way through the production with boundless energy few adults could muster. Really, there shouldn’t be any favourites, but it’s very hard not to fall in love with Souparnika’s performance as Tomika, a small girl with a huge voice. Barely a teen, her voice swells through the auditorium with high octane emotion. As a musical that seems on paper to be about kids, for kids, Nair’s performance is just one of the many factors that makes this production universally appealing. Dewey and the kids performances of ‘The School of Rock’ and ‘Stick It to The Man’ are probably some best of the musical theatre ensemble work touring the country.

If you love the film, this musical is a very pleasing carbon copy that translates a brilliant film into an equally as excellent musical. If you’ve never seen the film, this musical promises to have you out of your seat and rocking by the end of the show, and of course, sticking it to the man.

This production runs until Saturday 29th January at the Edinburgh Playhouse https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/school-of-rock/edinburgh-playhouse/

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 26th January 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★