School of Rock opened in Melbourne to obliterate the cold, spring night with a blistering performance. The show takes everything great from the original 2003 film and distils it down to its best elements.
With the proven success of Cyndi Lauper’s involvement with Kinky Boots, let alone Tim Minchin’s work on Matilda and Groundhog Day, it surely was only a matter of time before we heard from the big guns. Indeed, after a string of dour reality TV commitments and the middling success of Love Never Dies, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber refuses to rest on his laurels by contributing the music for this fantastic adaptation.
With lyrics by Glenn Slater (has worked on stage musical versions of Sister Act and The Little Mermaid), and book by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), the show navigates a fun story that – refreshingly – saw the audience at Her Majesty’s Theatre filled with plenty of children and young people.
After being kicked out of his band, Dewey (Brent Hill) is struggling for direction, not-to-mention an income. So when the Principal of Horace Green Prep, Ms Mullins (Amy Lehpamer) calls for Dewey’s housemate, Ned (Zachary Pidd) offering a job, Dewey takes the offer and shows up as the scribble-spelt-on-the-blackboard, Mr Schneebly. Once he discovers his class can play music, Dewey begins training them in the ways of rock music. What could go wrong?
As it turns out – by the time Dewey’s plotting with his kids to smuggle them out of school to a Battle of the Bands competition, but not before all is revealed to the class’ more-than-upset parents – plenty.
Brent Hill was terrific as Dewey. Taking on any role made iconic by a memorable film performance is no easy undertaking. To some extent, it requires the actor to assume some of those qualities, but not so much that it simply becomes some thespianic kind of karaoke.
However, Brent succeeds in suggesting moments of Jack Black’s performance, but absolutely making the role his own. There’s a lightness that comes through, even in Dewey’s sad moments, that makes Brent’s work particularly fun and captivating.
Speaking of captivating. Amy Lehpamer was wonderful as Ms Mullins. Sure, her rendition of Where Did the Rock Go? threatened to lift the roof off the building and could be argued was more blistering than any of the rock music played during the show, but on the either side of that was a character that was a pleasure to get to know. Her stern beginnings, the gradual opening up to Dewey and his unorthodox teaching methods, her joy at the end – Amy gave a superb performance throughout.
With John O’Hara out of action, Zachary Pidd did great work as Dewey’s housemate, Ned, particularly in combination with Ned’s girlfriend and all-round Dewey-cynic, Patty, played perfectly by Nadia Komazec.
Dewey’s class were all a delight to watch onstage. The band – Freddy (Kempton Maloney) on drums, Lawrence (Olando Schwerdt) on keyboard, Katie (Samantha Zhang) on bass, Zach (Jayden Tatasciore) on guitar, Marcy (Riya Mandrawa) and Shonelle (Ava Rose Houben Carter) on backup vocals, and Tomika (Chihana Perera) on lead vocals – were marvellous.
While the rest of the class – Mason (Oscar Mulchary) on tech, James (Zac El-Alo) on security, Billy (Lenny Thomas) as their stylist, Sophie (Maya Corbett) as band roadie/dancer, and Summer (Ava McInnes) as their Manager – were, well, also marvellous. Admittedly, some of the vocals were lost through the hubbub and some diction issues, otherwise the students were brilliant in (considering the multitude of desk jumps) what were physically demanding roles.
After the odd, unsatisfying, mixed-media morass of The Bodyguard, School of Rock is a musical palate cleanser of the highest calibre. More than that, it’s a glorious spring show (are you listening, Melbourne weather?) that couldn’t be more recommended for the family to attend.
School of Rock
Her Majesty’s Theatre, 219 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Performance: Friday 9 November 2018 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 3 February 2019
School of Rock will also play Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre – QPAC from July 2019 and the Sydney’s Capitol Theatre from November 2019. For more information, visit: www.schoolofrock.com.au for details.
Image: Brent Hill (centre) with the kids from School of Rock – photo by Matthew Murphy
Review: David Collins