Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

School of Rock

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, book by Julian Fellowes, lyrics by Glenn Slater
David Ian for Crossroads Live, Warner Music Group, Access Industries Inc and The Really Useful Group
Curve Theatre, Leicester

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School of Rock company Credit: Paul Coltas
School of Rock company Credit: Paul Coltas
Rebecca Lock (Rosalie Mullins) Credit: Paul Coltas
Jake Sharp (Dewey Finn), Matthew Rowland (Ned Schneebly) Credit: Paul Coltas

For anyone who, like me, experienced pre-show “embarrassing dad” worries around School of Rock then I am pleased to report these fears are unfounded.

This production is now nearing the end of its UK tour. School of Rock is a relatively new musical; in 2015, Lord Webber and his team took the high-grossing 2003 film of the same name and adapted it for the stage, with book by Julian Fellowes (quite a leap from the dreamy spires of Downton Abbey to the dry ice of rock gigs) and witty lyrics by Glenn Slater. According to the programme, Webber, Fellowes, Slater and director Laurence Connor are big fans of the film and grew up as rock fans, and this shows in their affectionate adaptation and gentle mocking of the genre.

The life of wannabe rockstar Dewey Finn (Alex Tomkins) is not going well: kicked out of his band No Vacancy, given notice on his rented room and set free from his job. His housemates, particularly no-nonsense Patti (Nadia Violet Johnson), are demanding his outstanding rent and when an opportunity presents itself to take a job teaching at the prestigious prep school Horace Green, he takes it. The downside is he pretends to be his teacher housemate, former bandmate and best mate Ned Schneebly (Matthew Rowland) to get the job.

After initially barely enduring his class of earnest, straight-laced pupils, Finn realises they have talent as musicians and could help him achieve all he’s ever wanted: to win the Battle of the Bands. You can probably guess what happens next but the joy of this musical is the children. Not least that they play and sing live, but their characters’ “journeys” are redemptive and life-affirming, as well as Finn’s own realisation of his worth.

This cast of schoolchildren is hugely talented. In the performance I saw (not pictured in the production shots), Joseph Sheppard as Zack (lead guitar) totally rocks out, as does Eva McGrath as Freddy (drums), David Gluhovsky as Laurence (keyboards), and Effie Lennon Ballard as Katie (bass). Jasmine Djazel’s confident solos as singer Tomika are stunning, and Florence Moluluo’s Summer makes a formidable band manager.

Despite Finn’s rather unappealing character traits, Tomkins manages to get away with this as endearing rather than gross and the touching reprise of “If Only You Would Listen”, sung to him by Tomika and her classmates just before the competition, shows just how much he, and they, have changed. It’s a real “awww” moment and completes his journey from loser to legend.

Headmistress Rosalie Mullins (Rebecca Lock) also undergoes an enjoyable transformation from strict disciplinarian to rock chick at the sound of Stevie Nicks’s “Edge of Seventeen”.

Anna Louizos’s set design is impressive, as locations glide seamlessly from prep school to rock gig, classroom to bar room.

This musical packs in all the rock clichés: tongue waggling, lunging in tight trousers, and almost no scene goes by without the “horns” hand gesture but, to quote Kenny Everett / Cupid Stunt, they’re all done in the best possible taste. Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater’s songs are pretty much as spot on as can be for a family rock musical, catchy and fun with “Stick It to the Man” a stand-out anthem.

For those behind School of Rock, I salute you.

Reviewer: Sally Jack