I left School of Rock at the Empire on Tuesday a mixture of feelings: on one hand, I was buzzing with the energy of a fantastic show, with an electric finale and ultimate feel-good vibe. On the other hand however, I was deflated – knowing I will never, nor have ever been, as equal-parts cool and insanely talented as the child cast that were on the stage tonight. Because as Andrew Lloyd Webber himself assured us at the start of the show, yes, they do play their own instruments live!
The story follows the film almost exactly. Dewey Finn (Jake Sharp) is living with, and sponging from, his best friend Ned Schneebly (played exquisitely by Matthew Rowland) and his long-suffering girlfriend Patty (Nadia Violet Johnson). He has been threatened with eviction by the pair, as well as being kicked out of his beloved band (of underrated-hilarious, tragic rock cliches). He ends up pretending to be Schneebly and landing a job at the prestigious Horrace Green as a substitute teacher. After hearing the children play their classical instruments, he decides to create a rock band with the kids and enter the Battle of the Bands. Hilarity and hijinks ensue.
The musical adaptation of this iconic film has a lot to live up to, with Jack Black and Joan Cusack heading up the Hollywood version. I was doubtful of Jake Sharps ability (or honestly, anyone’s ability) to do Black’s portrayal of Dewy Finn justice, but I was wrong to be worried. Although the character takes a few scenes to get going and become the lovable rouge the audience are routing for, when he is interacting with the children, he is just fantastic. His physical comedy and timing is at least on par with Jack Black, and he delivers many of the iconic lines from the movie, without coming across as a cheap impersonator. His voice is powerful, and the perfect blend of rock and musical theatre needed for such a role.
I will say that there were times when it was hard to make out the lyrics of some songs, which was a shame as there were so many hilarious lines.
Rebecca Lock as Rosalie Mullins was breath-taking. Her operatic voice in contrast to Sharp’s rock vibe, was just incredible. She embodied the stuffy principal flawlessly and although she was often the straight to Sharp’s funny man, her own moment of comedy was on point. I could have watched her for days.
The children were, of course, so incredibly talented. Not just with their instruments, but also their characterizations and overall stage presence. I could rave about every single child on the stage, but I do feel like I need to highlight the unbelievable voice of Jasmine Djazel as Tomika, the amazing comedy timing of Kaylenn Aires Fonseca as Billy and the know-it-all energy of Layla Pages as Summer.
One thing I will say about the storyline specifically is that some things felt a little rushed and plot points were a little too convenient. Obviously, this is theatre, and so that is to be expected, but a few scenes did feel a little wishy washy and rushed.
As expected, the movie-inspired songs, “In the End of time (Band Practice)” and “School of Rock” were just incredible, but “Stick it to the Man” was another high-energy anthem ear-worm, and “If only you would listen” was a real tender moment.
During the press night performance, we were evacuated from the building, right before the end of act one, and when we were allowed back in, we went straight into act two. This means we ended up missing both In the End of Time (The Audition) and Stick it to the Man (Reprise) which was a crying shame because of the rest of the show is an indication, these would have been just incredible.
Despite the interruption, the energy on stage in the second half was just as powerful (if not more so), as if the cast had really found their flow.
One thing that kept the show feeling fresh was the addition of some jokes and references that were a little more British feeling, such as a cheeky nod (or disapproving shake of the head!) to James Cordon. I would be interested to see how this develops and changes throughout the run.
Although there are a few more adult jokes, and the odd mild cuss word, it’s a great family musical and we saw a lot of parents enjoying the show with their children. As a fan of the original movie, I was expecting to feel a little deflated but it’s impossible to feel anything but jubilant and energized after this show. A hilarious, feel-good rock n roll romp.
Playing until 9th July, https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/school-of-rock/liverpool-empire/
Reviewer: Codie Wright
Reviewed: 5th July 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★