Monday 4th April 2022 at Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House.
This stage adaptation of the popular 2003 film is a treat. Not just because it features a cracking cast, but because it features a fantastic group of multi-talented young actor-musos who play their instruments live each night while telling us a witty and warm-hearted story along the way. We’ve seen excellent junior actors and casts before, but rarely do we see a junior cast who perform with such seemingly seasoned confidence, and it’s thoroughly wholesome (despite a few cheeky jokes) and very entertaining.
The plot? A wannabe rock star, Dewey, has been booted out of his band and is leeching his good pal dry. The pal’s girlfriend is having none of it though and when Dewey finds himself strapped for cash, he masquerades as a substitute teacher and preps a peppy set of prep school youngsters for his big comeback: “Battle of the Bands”. Julian Fellowes’ (yes, that Julian Fellowes, but don’t expect anything Downton about this) Book does well to adapt the story for the stage, updating the quips for 2022 audiences and ensuring that there’s a good dose of sentiment nestling between exuberant rock numbers.
Laurence Connor’s direction sees many plates spinning – we are guided between scenes and locations with impressive cohesion considering how much character development of the adults and children this piece packs in. And Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music fits the bill here, too. It’s full surround sound of electric guitars as a staple, and while that all guns blazing approach sometimes drowns out Glenn Slater’s mostly functional lyrics, it lifts energy very quickly when needed. It’s also great to see the playful nods to musical variety here as opera is given air time alongside Stevie Nicks and a few more gentle numbers.
We have the keen eye of casting director Verity Naughton to thank for our superb junior cast. Leading the youngsters at this performance was the superb Evie Marner, who plays the precocious mini-grown-up Summer with great comic timing and silent reactions that could well kill – and if not kill the oblivious recipient, then at least amuse onlookers. While every last youngster gives their all, shout outs must also go to Tia Isaac for winning us over with the shy Tomika who blossoms before us, Eva McGrath for her charming moments of smirking mischief as Freddy, Oliver Forde’s panache on the keys as Lawrence and Elodie Salmon’s astonishing energy as Marcy the hype girl. But truly, the whole gang are extraordinary and it’s great to see their talent front and centre.
And if anyone can match the energy of so many youngsters on top form, it’s clearly Jake Sharp as Dewey Finn. Sharp is a thoroughly engaging lead who gives a performance full of tiny gross details and flailing, petulant energy befitting a wannabe rock star. And despite the amount of time spent being a silly and self-serving opportunist, Sharp gives a meaningful performance when it comes to delivering the inevitable warmth necessary to round off the story. Rebecca Lock is another stand out as Rosalie Mullins, the very definition of uptight and the archetypal upright Principal – Lock gives a stellar performance both in terms of character arc and an impressive vocal range.
Anna Louizos’ scenic design brilliantly conjures the luxury of a well-funded private school alongside the tragic crummy guest room commandeered by a cheeky non-paying guest. Meanwhile costume designs beautifully contrast the legit professionals with the imposter and the grubby grown up with the pristine clean of the children. Joann M. Hunter’s choreography provides impactful synchronised numbers which transform the school kids into an unstoppable collective force who are often totally adorable despite their ever growing sense of rebellion. Completing the visual smorgasbord board is Natasha Katz’s lighting design which floods the stage with concert spectacle when it’s time to… well, rock!
This is very much a show worth seeing – and as the rapturous applause at this performance suggests, audiences agree with that conclusion!
School of Rock plays Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House until April 9th 2022 – you can find your tickets here. The show then continues its tour until August 13th 2022 and you can find information about venues, dates and tickets here.