The Theatreguide.London Review
New London Theatre 2016 - 2020
Andrew Lloyd Webber rocks!
Before I get to some minor cavils later in this review, let me establish that School Of Rock is a big, noisy, energetic, tuneful musical of the sort 'they' supposedly don't write any more, and it is a whole lot of fun. See it, bring the kids, bring grandma, and enjoy yourself.
The musical is, of course, based on the 2003 movie about a slacker and wannabe musician who cons his way into a teaching job and turns the kids into the rock band of his dreams, saving them from the spirit-killing machine that is American education.
Book-writer Julian Fellowes (yes, he of Downton Abbey) wisely doesn't mess too much with what works – no points for guessing in advance that the all-business school principal will discover her inner rock chick or that the disapproving parents will be won over when they see their kids rocking out.
Glenn Slater's lyrics may too rarely be more than serviceable, but who listens to heavy metal lyrics anyway? What drives the show is Lloyd Webber's music, David Fynn's performance in the central role, and the incredible talent and energy of a stage full of kids.
After years of his great semi-operatic scores and power ballads, we can easily forget that ALW began as a rock composer. But he is also the consummate musical theatre master, and even the most hard-rocking songs in School Of Rock are essentially solid theatrical numbers with a few heavy metal riffs thrown in.
That's not a criticism – it means that we are getting the man who is the best at what he does, doing what he does best.
The songs are good, and they are also totally accessible even to those who wouldn't know their AC/DC from their Vanilla Fudge.
(Actually, forty years of technology aside, a lot of School Of Rock's songs sound like out-takes from Annie, and there is a direct and not very long line from A Hard Knock Life to this show's anthem Stick It To The Man.)
I defy anyone not to get excited and maybe even a bit misty-eyed at You're In The Band, as our hero hands out instruments and the kids become instant stars. Stick It To The Man and the title song are infectiously bouncy, all the more so with the sight of the kids – there are three alternating casts – unfeignedly having a ball up there.
And there are a couple of softer songs as well, notably If Only You Would Listen (with Glenn Slater's best lyrics), the children's plea to their too-busy or too-demanding parents, along with a wicked parody of heavy metal in a song for a rival grown-up band.
Director Laurence Connor keeps things moving and skilfully bars any hint of either chaos or regimentation. And if Joann M Hunter's choreography consists mainly of having the kids jump up and down in place, it turns out that a stageful of kids jumping up and down is thoroughly engaging and exciting to watch.
David Fynn brings more than Jack-Black-style coarse energy to the central role, with a lot of personal charm and just enough depth to let us feel how thrilled the guy is to be acting out his dreams, even second-hand.
That the character is sometimes at the outer edge of his controllable emotions sometimes makes us aware of the performer straining to hold on to the anarchy he is generating. But that tension isn't necessarily a bad thing – you want to see a rock star sweat and strain a little.
With most of the adult cast doubling as parents, teachers and others, the only other one to register is Florence Andrews as the principal, and it she who gets – and does full justice to – the one big and dramatic Andrew Lloyd Webber ballad, Where Did The Rock Go.
Lloyd Webber's last show at the New London Theatre stayed there for twenty-one years. School Of Rock just might settle in for as long, but don't take the chance. Go now.
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Review - School Of Rock - New London Theatre 2016