School of Rock

Reviewer's Rating

Was it not W.C. Fields who warned actors about the dangers of working with children?  The cuties in this production, based on the 2003 Hollywood movie, could have upstaged just about any grown up.  But they had their work cut out against Jake Sharp.  A rotund slob with some disgusting personal habits, his character – in the tradition of John Belushi in The Blues Brothers and indeed of Jack Black in the original film version of this show – nevertheless carries the whole thing along from start to finish with amazing energy and stamina.  The way he propels his not inconsiderable bulk across the stage is a wonder to behold.

The basic story line is that an out-of-work rock musician fraudulently obtains a temporary teaching post at an expensive preparatory school, where the children in their smart uniforms are well behaved goody-goodies.  The fake teacher soon changes that as the lessons in his class become exclusively music lessons and the motley assortment of pupils coalesce into a rock band, complete with backing vocalists, roadies and a manager.  How old are they?  The programme doesn’t say anything about them except their names (probably for safeguarding reasons, although the separate press release does give more information), but they must be pre-teens, and what they do is amazing.  Precocity isn’t in it!  Not only do they actually play their own instruments, but they sing harmoniously and their movements are so well drilled as to gladden the heart of a sergeant-major.  He probably would not appreciate their attitude, though.  “Stick it to the man!” is their watchword, accompanied by a gesture which in my day would have got you ‘six of the best’ in the headmaster’s study.  But the adults in the audience thought it was hilarious.

In fact the audience in the packed house last night were nearly all adults, and not a few of them old enough to have a Freedom Pass.  It occurred to me that the music would be too loud for some, but of course they are Baby Boomers, brought up on beat groups and heavy metal, and they would love that sort of thing.  The music was indeed good.  It was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, after all.  One striking exception was the Queen of the Night’s aria from The Magic Flute, sung with a fine soprano voice by Rebecca Lock, the strait-laced disciplinarian headmistress of the exclusive private school, who eventually succumbs to the chaotic charms of her undisciplined music teacher.

The musical, already a showcase for choreography and stagecraft, reaches its climax when the pupils, who have named their band ‘The School of Rock’, enter the Battle of the Bands competition, and get to strut their exuberant stuff, fronted by Jake Sharp in AC/DC mode complete with shorts.  The triumphant finale had the capacity audience rising to its feet in a sincere tribute to the bravura performance of the cast.