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 by arrangement with The Really Useful group Ltd
Sunderland Empire

School of Rock - The Battle of the Bands
School of Rock - Music lesson
School of Rock
School of Rock

I have to confess that, if I were to make a hierarchical ordering of my favourite musical genres, Hard Rock—Heavy Metal, Ozzy Osbourne, Def Leppard, whatever!—would be well down the list. I also have to confess that I have not seen the 2003 film.

So why should I choose to go to the Empire to review something that has so many strikes against it?

It’s partially because I have been wrong before (my reaction to rap-based show Shine at Live Theatre is a perfect example), partially because, as one who taught Performing Arts for many years, I’m a sucker for shows which give kids the chance to prove just how brilliant they can be, but mainly because this was the Gala Opening, or rather Re-opening, Night, after eighteen months of hibernation, of the theatre in which my professional theatre career began more than fifty years ago.

Anyway, to School of Rock. I’m not qualified to comment on the music, although “Stick it to the man” really appeals!

Let’s face it, though; the basic premise of the story is, to say the least, unlikely.

Our central character, Dewey Finn (Jake Sharp), is a would-be rock star who, at the beginning of the show, gets thrown out of the band he’s part of. No, that’s not the unlikely bit. He is also way behind with his rent, which is getting his landlady Patty Di Marco (Nadia Violet Johnson), the partner of his best friend, Ned Schneebly (Matthew Roland), a supply teacher, extremely annoyed. Again, not unlikely. He’s also a lazy slob. That is very obvious!

One day, he opens a letter to his friend which is offering him a supply post at the prestigious Horace Green Preparatory School and decides to impersonate him, which he does successfully.

And now we are entering the realm of “extremely unlikely”. On watching the Principal Rosalie Mullens (Rebecca Lock) taking a music lesson in which, accompanied by the children of the class on an array of instrument, she sings part of the Queen of the Night’s aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, he decides that, to hell with maths (sorry, math, this is in the US), English, geography etc., they will do nothing but music and will form a band and enter and win the Battle of the Bands, and so get his revenge on the band who threw him out!

The characters, frankly, are at best two-dimensional and clichéd. In fact, the plot is little more than a string of clichés—Ms Mullens even has her “Gee, Miss Jones, you’re beautiful!” moment, thanks to Stevie Nicks. Don’t ask!

On the plus side, however, the show is very much of the “feel-good” variety—and don’t we need that now after what we’ve been through?—and the kids, aged between 9 and 13, are superb both as actors and musicians. And yes, they do actually play their instruments, they are not miming—there was a real mini-Hendrix on stage at the Gala Night!—and they sing pretty damned well too!

I have a real complaint! There are three teams of youngsters, as required by law, but we weren’t told which was onstage so they can’t be given the recognition they so richly deserve.

They enter the Battle of the Bands. They are the last to perform. We await the judges’ decision. And then…

You wouldn’t believe it! A voice comes over the tannoy: “There is an emergency in the theatre. Please leave by the nearest exit as quickly as possible.”

Most of us thought it was part of the show. Then the safety curtain was lowered, Oh ho! This is real! So 2,000 people calmly but swiftly left the theatre, just seven minutes before the end of the show.

It was a fire alarm and the Fire Brigade, who attended very quickly, asked for the theatre to be cleared so they could do a proper check. My sources tell me it was due to a faulty smoke detector but obviously I don’t know for sure.

So we don’t know whether the Horace Green School of Rock won the Battle of the Bands.

I bet they did, though.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan