Andrew Lloyd Webber returns to the West End (via Broadway) and to the home of one of his greatest triumphs Cats (the New London Theatre), and he's back on form with a score that is more Superstar than Phantom, and all we can say is that it's a bona fide hit.
Based on the film of the same name that starred Jack Black, School of Rock is the story of drop-out Dewey Finn, who in need of money to pay his rent impersonates his flatmate (temp teacher Ned Schneebly) at the prestigious prep school Horace Green. During his temp assignment, he turns the children into the band he needs to win the Battle Of The Bands and in doing so makes the children realise their worth and talent.
As Dewey Finn, David Fynn delivers a monumental performance channelling every inch of his comedy prowess and acting chops to bring this larger than life character to the stage. Fynn is perfectly matched by Florence Jenkins as Rosalie Mullins, Principal at Horace Green. Mullins gorgeous soprano and straight-laced school marm with a hankering for Stevie Nicks is perfectly played and a delight to listen to.
Where Fynn really takes off is in the scenes with his class. Andrew Lloyd Webber's team searched the UK to find the 39 child actors needed to play the three teams of children for this production. It has to be said (and this is only based on the team that I saw) that they succeeded in droves. If this is a sample of the talent that is now growing up in the UK we are in very good hands indeed.
Joshua Vaughan, Jude Harper-Wrobel, Denzel Eboji, Lois Jenkins, James Lawson, Madeleine Haynes, Presley Charman, Harry Egerton, Shoshana Ezequiel, Mia Roberts, Eva Trodd, Nicole Dube and Tom Abisgold, you are all amazing!!!
Oliver Jackson and Preeya Kalidas play (the real) Ned Schneebly and patty Di Marco, Dewey's long-suffering flatmates. Unfortunately, Patty is reduced to a pantomime villain throughout and the loss of Give Up Your Dreams, a song which seems to have been excised on its Transatlantic voyage is felt.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Julian Fellowes and Glenn Slater are to be congratulated on a production that certainly had the audience on side from start to finish. Laurence Connor's direction combined with Anna Louizos's sets and costumes, Joann M Hunter's choreography and Natasha Katz lighting – a brilliant combination of theatre and rock reminiscent of work done by Jules Fisher are top notch. It's also a sign of the Lord's sense of humour that he allows a joke aimed at himself and his production of Cats to draw a laugh. The integration of sections of his Variations piece into the show work brilliantly too!
Unfortunately, on the night I saw the show Mick Potter's sound let the production down badly. Vocals were drowned out. This is a temporary glitch I am sure which like all technical problems with shows at the start of their runs get ironed out, but it goes to show just how tricky mounting a production combining rock and theatre elements can be.
Combining the talents of these incredible child actors and allowing them to play instruments live on stage together with Matt Smith's incredibly talented “half-band” works a treat and only adds to the magical spell that this production weaves.
School of Rock is a triumph. It looks set for a decent run at the New London Theatre. Only time will tell if it will match the run of the Lord's mega-hit Cats.