In this hilarious, family oriented musical, Dewey Finn’s dream of becoming a ‘Rock God’ is fading: he’s out of work, can’t afford rent, and perhaps worst of all he’s been unceremoniously ejected from his own band for hogging the limelight.
Fast approaching is the Battle of the Bands, Dewey’s greatest chance to achieve rock stardom. As he wallows in self pity this dejected Orpheus answers a call for his friend and landlord Ned Schneebly, offering Mr Schneebly teaching work at a prestigious primary school (“Here at Horace Green our purpose is to glean good test results from pre-adults”).
Dewey spies an opportunity to make some money, assumes Schneebly’s identity, and turns up (late) on Monday morning with a radical new teaching philosophy which revolves around an all-day recess. Guess what? The kids can play. Is it in Dewey’s fate to ascend Rock Mountain after all?
The School of Rock had its premiere at the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway in 2015. Andrew Lloyd Webber (EGOT winner) has provided the music, with book by Julian Fellowes (the Oscar winner who brought you Downton Abbey) and lyrics by Glenn Slater (Broadway productions of The Little Mermaid and Sister Act).
This musical is of course based on the film of the same name starring Jack Black. It sticks closely to its source material, but Webber reportedly noted that the roles of the children needed to be fleshed out for the stage: we needed to be more invested in their personal journeys.
Brent Hill is astonishing as Dewey Finn. It’s a truly athletic performance: for at least 2.5 hours he’s dancing, leaping, exhorting, and above all, Rocking. I found myself wondering how the cast manage two-show days. Hill knows how to entertain a younger audience: he’s not frightening even when angry, and doesn’t compete with the children on stage, but rather finds moments to highlight and celebrate their abilities.
Amy Lehpamer as Rosalie Mullins delivers perhaps the most heartfelt moment of the night, with her second act heart-breaker Where Did the Rock Go? The first half of The School or Rock is arguably overlong at 1.5 hours: Lehpamer’s efforts contributed to a deeply satisfying and pacey second half.
The students of Horace Green themselves are remarkably talented. You might find yourself wondering how it’s possible to be so highly skilled before the age of twelve. A voice recording of Webber himself opens the show, assuring us that, yes, the kids are really playing their instruments. They perform accomplished musical solos, all while acting, singing and dancing at a standard that appears to nearly defy explanation.
The sets and costumes (Anna Louizos) are everything you hope they will be for a big budget production: the sets in the school were particularly inventive, as Dewey crafts every more sophisticated ruses to hide the musical aspirations of the class from the nosy (concerned?) staff.
Lighting is sensational, at times conveying the experience of attending a rock concert (Natasha Katz). Hair design is also lots of fun and well executed (Josh Marquette). The script commendably features a number of progressive messages; there is a place in The School of Rock for everyone.
The kids in the audience were cheering before the show had even begun, and Brent Hill knows exactly how to win them over. Don’t miss your chance to relive the classic film, or share a (mostly) wholesome and hilarious evening with the family.
The School of Rock
Capitol Theatre, 13 Campbell Street, Haymarket (Sydney)
Performance: Friday 15 November 2019 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 16 February 2020
Image: Brent Hill as Dewey Finn in The School of Rock – photo by Matt Murphy
Review: Oliver Wakelin