If I told you there was an Andrew Lloyd Webber show on at the Palace Theatre based on a book by Julian Fellowes, best known for his historical dramas such as Downton Abbey and Gosford Park, you may be surprised to find out it is the comedy “The School of Rock”. The book itself is based on the 2003 movie starring Jack Black and this touring production is directed by Laurence Connor who has been involved since the musical began on Broadway.
This is a fast paced and very funny show, with amusing lyrics provided by Glenn Slater.
The high level of entertainment persists throughout, beginning from the opening curtain when the show starts with Chris Breistein channelling Jon Bon Jovi’s voice as Theo, the lead singer of soft rock band, No Vacancy, with a self-indulgent break-up love song, “I’m Too Hot For You”, leading into the parallels of main protagonist, Dewey Finn (played by Alex Tomkins on the night we saw it) being kicked out of the band he created for not being as good looking as its other members.
As Finn returns home to the place he shares with an ex-band mate of his from the wonderfully named Death Maggot, Ned Schneebly (Matthew Rowland) now a supply teacher and Ned’s girlfriend Patty (Nadia Violet Johnson) let Finn know he needs to grow up and pay some rent.
When Finn takes a call from the $50k a year Horace Green Preparatory School meant for Schneebly and finds out the going rate for temp work, he decides to impersonate his friend and take on the position himself. Finn then takes it upon himself to educate them in the ways of rock and gets them to form a band.
While the Jack Black mannerisms are on display early on from Tomkins with the Tenacious D-like, “When I Climb To The Top Of Mount Rock”, you soon forget Black as Tomkins’ charm and likeability take over. So much so you’d be mistaken for thinking the role had been written especially for him. Tomkins does incredibly well considering he seems to be on stage for 80% of the two hours and twenty minutes run time and his energy levels never let up.
Rebecca Lock also gives an amazing performance as Head Teacher of the Prep, Miss Mullins with a flawless display of vocal strength and range.
The show wouldn’t work without a group of talented youngsters who sing, dance and rock out while playing their instruments live on stage. My 9-year-old co-reviewer described the show as “inspiring”, particularly from the kids who make up the band – Joseph Sheppard’s lead guitar wielding Zack, Marikit Akiwumi’s bass pounding Katie, Angus McDougall’s keyboard skills as Lawrence and Eva McGrath’s drumming as Freddy on her kit, the desks, the floor and anywhere else she can hammer away at. Souparnika Nair as Tomika shines during her solos and Florrie May Wilkinson provides a great little manager as Summer.
The choreography from Joann M. Hunter is very tight and the ensemble are in sync throughout. My personal favourite was the Guitar Hero dance with Tomkins and Rowland.
There may not be any songs here that would make it onto an Andrew Lloyd Webber greatest hits album but given a back catalogue of Evita, Cats, Phantom, Joseph and Jesus Christ Superstar to name but a handful it would need to be a standout track to displace any of his classics. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great show, because it is. At one point Lock beautifully sings, “Where did the Rock go?” but with a show and kids like those on display tonight, Rock is going nowhere and is here to stay.
School of Rock the Musical is at The Palace Theatre, Manchester from 4-15 January 2022 and touring until August.
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