"The most enjoyable few hours money can buy"The Daily Telegraph
"Terrific fun"Daily Mail
"Lloyd Webber delivers a rabble-rousing musical with a big heart and impressive drilled young actors"The Observer
"A big hearted show. Loud and cheeky, a feel-good experience with a hint of anarchic wilderness"Evening Standard
A wannabe rock star introduces a class of straight A pupils to the joy of music
With a cast of highly talented youngsters who act, sing, dance and play their own instruments, School of Rock the Musical follows the adventures of Dewey Finn, a failed, wannabe rock star who decides to earn an extra bit of cash by posing as a supply teacher at a prestigious prep school.
There he turns a class of pupils into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping mind-blowing rock band. But can he get them to the Battle of the Bands without their parents and the school’s headmistress finding out?
Based on the famous Jack Black movie School of Rock, the new musical features 14 new songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Glenn Slater, plus all the original songs.
The creative team includes director Laurence Connor, who has directed Les Miserables (Broadway), Miss Saigon (London), Jesus Christ Superstar (UK and Australian Arena Tour and released for DVD), the entirely new stage production of The Phantom of the Opera (US and UK), Oliver! (UK Tour) and the critically acclaimed Miss Saigon (UK Tour and Worldwide) for which Connor was the recipient of multiple awards.
The book is by Emmy-award winner Julian Fellowes, creator/writer of Downton Abbey, and numerous stage projects including Mary Poppins, Half A Sixpence and The Wind in the Willows.
A stonking hit on Broadway, at a stroke rescuing the ailing artistic reputation and re-booting the commercial fortunes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, School of Rock has now landed with an almighty kerrang of confidence in the West End.
The rave reviews Stateside suggested that Lloyd Webber and his associates – Julian Fellowes (book), Glenn Slater (lyrics) and Laurence Connor (director) – had made the creative grade in turning the much-loved 2003 Hollywood comedy into a musical. I caught it in New York this summer, and adored it. The big question, though, was whether the same magic could happen here. The answer is a resounding yes.
The stage version cleaves closely to the celluloid storyline, following the misadventures of Dewey Finn, a rock-loving slob who wangles an illicit gig as a supply teacher (faking his best friend’s identity) at a posh prep school. At Horace Green, he courts the risk of exposure while giving his over-regimented charges a liberating education in rock.
“Team” Lloyd Webber have improved on this vaguely preposterous but resonant fairytale of salvation through disobedience and primal playfulness. What was funny becomes doubly so. Where there were a handful of original songs, now there’s an album’s worth, busting with rare freshness and vitality. And where in the film you admired the precocious display of talent accompanied by a burgeoning rebellious tween spirit, on stage that happens right before your eyes, within deafening earshot.
The production hits exactly the same high notes of hysterical excitement as the New York version. Given that the youngsters (aged 10-13) don’t just have to play instruments but put on American accents and attitudes to boot, the achievement is greater. The venue, true, is smaller but, hey, when the assembled nippers pogo up and down in defiant sync to one of many show-stoppers, Stick It to the Man, the stalls vibrate in wonderfully alarming unison, too.
What has Fellowes brought to the table? A lot of the funniest lines are familiar from the film, among them Dewey’s disastrous appeal for calm to agitated parents: “I have been touched by your kids and I’m pretty sure I’ve touched them.”
Fellowes’s valuable contribution is one of fine-tuning – so that the whole story, which now gives more air-time to the pressure-cooker consequences of pushy parenting, powers along at an energetic, adrenal lick.
David Fynn is terrific as the chaotic-charismatic man-child: badly dressed, implicitly whiffy, his paunchy physique put through a sweat-inducing work-out, finally wooing and winning the uptight headmistress and closet Stevie Nicks fan Miss Mullins (Florence Andrews, A-star). Everyone plays their part to perfection, though, aided by tightly drilled, pencil-sharp choreography from Joann M Hunter.
At the performance I caught, lanky Oscar Francisco as keyboard-whiz Lawrence, Toby Lee, impressive on electric guitar as Zack, and Amma Ris, with a roof-raising rendition of Amazing Grace as the shy Tomika, made you feel weirdly like the proudest parent. The most enjoyable few hours money can buy.
At the posh, ‘excellence-in-every-sense’ prep school where School of Rock is set, the militarily drilled children are taught to be seen but not heard.
That is until tubby, grubby, hung-over super-slob and wannabe hellraising rock star Dewey pretends to be a teacher to raise some dough to pay his debts and, quite by chance, releases the children’s voices to the brand new sound of Andrew Lloyd Webber goes Deep Purple.
Anyone who has seen the feel-fabulous 2003 Richard Linklater movie with Jack Black will know the story. Lloyd Webber’s musical version goes a step further.
When Dewey (David Fynn, revoltingly good as the lived-in, sweaty Dewey) sets these prim, proper, puritanical kids free on his musical instruments to release all their anger and frustration in a stand-out number, Stick It To The Man (‘Rock the house and make a scene and crank the amps to 17’), these youngsters are playing, stomping, belting it out, rocking for real with as much might as their spindly little legs can muster.
And in Laurence Connor’s high-spirited, high-energy staging, the floor shakes to prove it. It’s like Billy Elliot discovering ballet but louder, and not solo but as a band, which Dewey promptly enters into a rock contest.
There’s another lord a-leaping in the background to this show: fellow rebel rocker Julian Fellowes, that’s Lord Downton Abbey (actually Lord Fellowes of West Stafford), who wrote the story and dialogue.
Not that it strays far from the original but it’s updated with a reference to Pokémon Go and it amplifies the theme of over-scheduled children not being listened to by their pushy parents.
Budding stylist Billy has to hide his copy of Vogue behind Sports Illustrated in order not to upset his dad. And anxious head teacher Miss Mullins (Florence Andrews) is better coloured in than in the film.
She too gives vent to her repressed inner ‘Queen of the Night’, carried away first by Mozart’s The Magic Flute and then by Stevie Nicks’s Edge Of Seventeen, which prompts a lovely mournful ballad, Where Did The Rock Go? (‘All that youth and swagger turned to grown-up doubt, as the world spun like a record, and the music faded out’). In song after song, lyricist Glenn Slater is word-perfect.
There are three sets of children performing this show. The ones I saw were extraordinarily good, playing their instruments live and magnificently illustrating the show’s important lesson in the empowering, exhilarating nature of making music. Full marks to all concerned but specially to Lloyd Webber, who goes to the top of the class.
Here is the family Christmas outing solved. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical, which comes to London from Broadway, presses the emotional buttons of at least three generations. School of Rock has a rabble-rousing rock score: Lloyd Webber’s most vivacious for years, with an instantly memorable ensemble number in Stick It to the Man. It has a catch-in-the-throat story, based on the 2003 movie about a lumpy ex-guitarist who blags his way into an exclusive school and uses rock to release the gifts and gusto of uptight, exam-oriented, under-loved kids. And it has the best drilled band of child actors since Matilda.
Florence Andrews is in glass-shattering voice as the head teacher who needs to take off her specs and indulge her passion for Stevie Nicks: she even pulls off the Queen of the Night aria. David Fynn, in the lead role played by Jack Black and his mobile eyebrows in the movie, is suitably slobby and endearing. The script by Julian Fellowes is spry.
I could have done without the joke shrew wife – big roars of approval when hubbie tells her to shut up – and some of the off-the-peg flounces from the generally funny male gay couple. What is indispensable is the musical skill of the kids, who play live on stage, and Joann M Hunter’s vivid choreography. At one moment they are spookily imitating their elders – the pursed mouth of the bass guitarist, the rolled shoulders of the backing group. At the next they are high-leaping like five-year-olds, heels hitting their bums.
A sticky first 10 minutes could do with a trim. I would also like to see a play about children that didn’t assume everyone goes to expensive boarding schools. Still, much of this is irresistible. And good-hearted. How lovely to see that line of buttoned-up blazers messed up and made expressive. The kid who wears a bow tie, likes Barbra Streisand and is oppressed by his rugby-mad dad, gets to be the band’s stylist. The girl who never speaks proves to have a golden singing voice. The most stridently prim of girls gets blue streaks. If only.
Andrew Lloyd Webber has a hit on his hands. Those are words that have been said before, many times. But this fresh and charming musical, which premiered on Broadway a year ago, is very different from his recent work. Based on Richard Linklater’s 2003 film, it’s loud and cheeky, a feelgood experience with a hint of anarchic wildness.
On the big screen Jack Black infused slobbish guitarist Dewey with demented charisma. Here the role belongs to David Fynn. He may not have an outstanding voice, but he brings an irrepressible energy to his character, a scruffy waster who pretends to be his flatmate in order to land a job at an elite school.
In the classroom he unleashes the transformative power of music. Winning over Florence Andrews’s stressed headmistress is always going to be tough, even if she nurses a secret passion for Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks. But he makes immediate progress in getting his prim-looking charges to release their pent-up emotions.
These are kids who have been crushed by bullying, bossy parents and unrealistic expectations. Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame may not seem the obvious choice to write about pre-teens learning — in the words of the catchiest number — to ‘stick it to the man’. Yet his book is warmly amusing, and there’s plenty of knowing cleverness in Glenn Slater’s lyrics.
Lloyd Webber’s score is buoyant and bassy, with moments of guitar-shredding frenzy and a keen ear for pastiche. It’s calculated to showcase the skills of the cast’s younger members. There are thirty-nine in all — three sets of thirteen, working in rotation. On press night the standouts included Toby Lee, Oscar Francisco and Selma Hansen, playing their instruments live onstage and radiating feisty attitude without appearing obnoxious.
The early scenes are a little flat, but Laurence Connor’s production roars into life the moment the students start to fall under Dewey's spell. With an exuberant silliness that feels like a seasonal tonic, this is a big-hearted, family-friendly show.