Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaption of the Jack Black movie is currently at Curve.
Rock music. Children singing. A theatre in Leicester. Andrew Lloyd Webber has really gone back to his routes for this one.
The School of Rock musical, originally opened on Broadway in 2015, adapting the much-loved 2003 Jack Black-vehicle of the same name. It has a creative team of Laurence Connor (director), Julian Fellowes (book), Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics). The current UK tour was originally slated for 2021 but was pushed back due to covid restrictions.
The story centres around Dewey Finn (Jake Sharp), an out of work guitarist who poses as roommate, Ned Schneebly (Matthew Rowland) – a substitute teacher – at a prestigious prep school, in order to earn enough money to pay his rent. Uninspired by traditional teaching, Dewey elects to turn his fifth-grade class into the ultimate rock band, capable of competing at the upcoming Battle of the Bands contest.
Sharp is an unmistakably charismatic actor, carrying the show, leaving space for all the children to excel, and genuinely making us care about the rock star wannabe. Unfortunately, his biggest challenge comes through no fault of his own – he’s not Jack Black. The original movie was so completely built around Black’s performance, that anyone stepping into his shoes has a big job on their hands. Black never played a character – instead it was “what if Jack Black was a substitute teacher”, meaning anyone playing the role of Dewey Finn for the musical, must also play Jack Black. There’s only one Jack Black.
The script doesn’t always help him, as the humour is uneven – 50% of the creative team are tory peers, and – at times – the jokes feel like they were written by tory peers. There’s even a MySpace reference. In 2022. You might be thinking “well, it was probably more topical in 2015”, but it comes off the back of the kids singing about TikTok – the references have been updated! That said, a delightfully self-aware reference to the Cats movie landed hard with the audience.
Still, Sharp does a fine job under the circumstances, and really comes alive in the show's climactic Battle of the Bands sequence – freed from the shackles of the role, he just gets to be a rock star and he revels in it.
Also noteworthy is Rebecca Lock’s principal, Rosalie Mullins. Lock brings respectability to the role, and it's her duty to sneak a little opera into this rock musical. Initially uptight, she loosens through Dewey’s influence, and Lock’s role has the most variation in it across the show. She’s believable and note-perfect throughout.
The young cast are the show stealers though – a pre-show announcement from Lloyd Webber himself assures us that the kids are playing their own instruments, and it must be said: they’re phenomenal. Forget triple threats – these kids are acting, singing, dancing, and playing instruments. They even get bigger laughs than the adult cast. Quintuple threats, at least!
While all the children are great, four must be highlighted. Alfie Morwood stole the show as the band’s stylist, Billy, easily garnering the biggest laughs of the night. Florence Moluluo perfectly embodies the spirit of Miranda Cosgrove to play goody-two-shoes and band manager, Summer. William Laborde plays lead guitarist, Zach, owning the stage with a presence far beyond his years. Finally, Jasmine Djazel potentially gives the best vocal performance of the show, as the initially shy Tomika, coming out of her shell to bring the house down in the finale.
The sets are very cleverly designed, with walls that fly-in and rotate to change from classroom walls to corridors. Dewey’s bedroom, venue stages, and classroom blackboards enter in and out, enabling smooth transitions between locations. The lighting – though occasionally blinding as the finale’s gig set-up shines directly into the audience – builds the atmosphere of each scene, regardless of whether it be set in a dive bar or prep school teachers’ lounge.
The music is epic, as you would expect, with “You’re in the Band” and “Stick it to the Man” the songs you'll go home humming to yourself.
However, the sound mixing was disappointing. This is a recurring issue I’ve had with musicals at Curve – the instruments drown out the singers, especially during solos. When the ensemble sings together, it’s not as bad, as the combined volume of their voices are equal to the band, but individuals get lost. Lloyd Webber’s musicals generally have a lot of narrative development in the lyrics, so by losing this, you lose a significant portion of the story. I don’t know whether it’s an acoustic issue, or the microphones simply not being loud enough. This is at least the fourth musical I’ve seen at Curve over the years where I’ve been unable to hear the soloists and it does make for a frustrating evening.
Still, as a production, School of Rock is a fun, family friendly show, with a ridiculously talented cast who are undoubtedly the best in class.
Written by Tom Young
Tom is a feature writer for Niche Magazine. He has a degree in Creative Writing and over a decade of experience working in comedy and theatre as the founder of improv group, The Same Faces. He writes about what's on, interesting people, and local events.