I love School of Rock. The 2003 film written and starring underrated Mike White is a fun, music-filled romp that is inspirational to kids everywhere and teaches them about “sticking it to the man”. Ripe for stage adaptation, it is now another show in Sydney with music by the ineffable Andrew Lloyd Webber, and it succeeds in the same way the original film did.
Telling the story of Dewey Finn (Brent Hill), a lazy rock-obsessed musician who is kicked out of his band only weeks away from competing at the amateur Battle of the Bands contest, School of Rock really kicks off when he is told by his friend Ned Schneebly and Ned’s girlfriend Patty, who house him for free, to get a job and start paying rent or lest he be out on the street. Then in a moment of desperation, Dewey takes a phone call offering Ned work as a substitute teacher at the prestigious Horace Green school. Despite showing up late, he convinces the strict principal Rosalie Mullins (Amy Lehpamer) that he is the right substitute teacher. But once he learns that the class he teaches are musically gifted, he decides to compete them in the Battle of the Bands against his old band, and teaches the kids to embrace rock music in a way that they haven’t had the opportunity to before.
The musical sticks fairly closely to the film, which is probably why it succeeds entirely. The cast of children, of which there are a revolving door, are all superb singers and dancers, on top of playing the instrument’s their characters play live. It makes you feel as if they are acting playing their instruments. Some deserve shout outs including Zane Blumeris, Jude Hyland, Deeanna Cheong Foo and Sabina Felias, all excelling in their roles and shining in the cast. The show also captures the audience with this enthusiasm and Dewey’s love for rock’n’roll is palpable. Hill does an excellent job of bringing the character to life and is equally as convincing as Jack Black was in the original, albeit with some misguided lines from the show’s book. There is also more depth to the character of Miss Mullins, not just casting her as the prim, uptight principal, but also struggling with the pressure of running a prestigious school.
The set design is excellent and the costuming works hand in hand with the energy of the show. Sure, it’s a ridiculous show, as bombastic as Black was in the original film. The musical is phenomenal. The book by Julian Fellowes is pretty sharp, but you can feel that it is an older person writing about younger people. For Lloyd Webber, it’s not the perfect show for him to write music for, but you can feel that he is reverting to the rock opera semantics of Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar. He can certainly please and he does here in spades. The score is generally a bit more lackluster.
There were some sound issues in the production – at times middling and not flowing as one would like. But generally the show charms the pants out of anyone. The cast is filled to the brim with talent and the story is still as engaging as ever. Without its excellent cast of young children, there is no way it would soar as much as it did. You can see and feel them the whole way through. The kids are more than alright.
A brilliant collection of young cast members brings life to this film turned musical and really do stick it to the man. All adult cast are also on pointe with their comedic timing and you’ll leave the theatre happy you went. It’s the best show on in Sydney right now.
The book and score leave something to be desired. And it may have been opening night jitters, but the sound mixing didn’t always underscore the best musical moments of the show.
Originally published on Back Row, 9 November, 2019.