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Reviewed: School of Rock at The Little Theatre

Join the IDOLS as they "stick it to the man".

Mitchell Smith as Dewey Finn. Photo by Poyner + Mee.
Mitchell Smith as Dewey Finn. Photo by Poyner + Mee.

The IDOLS present their adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber (ALW) musical, based on the film of the same name.

Unusually, this is a musical I've reviewed before, so I'll spare you my thoughts about the show as a whole. In summary, School of Rock is a wildly ambitious musical, as finding someone to play Jack Black (not Dewey Finn, but Jack Black) is a challenge, and finding kids who can play the instruments is a bigger one.

Amateur operatic society, The IDOLS, have done a decent job of solving both conundrums for their production at The Little Theatre. Two actors have been cast as Dewey Finn; I saw Mitchell Smith, who will be splitting the role with Simon Collington throughout the week.

Smith's approach is not to shamelessly mimic Jack Black, but instead infuse the performance with the essence of his character. And I have to say, this is hugely beneficial. It felt more natural than what I've seen in professional productions (where the Blackisms were turned up to 11), and less beholden to what had come before.

The production really soars in scenes between Dewey and his students, and Smith's easy chemistry with the young actors enables this. Smith also did well to improvise where necessary, when the children required a moment-longer-than-planned to set up their instruments.

Principal Mullins is played by Natasha Carr. Another vocally ambitious role – there's a surprisingly large amount of opera required in a show about rock, as ALW does love his classics – but Carr handles it very well. She brings an air of respectability and authority to the role, neatly contrasting Smith's earthy performance, and later revealing the heart beneath the buttoned-up-blazer.

Natasha Carr's Principal Mullins leads the school in "Horace Green Alma Mater". Photo by Poyner + Mee.
Natasha Carr's Principal Mullins leads the school in "Horace Green Alma Mater". Photo by Poyner + Mee.

Ben Cusack and Lucy Edwards deliver nice character work as Dewey's friend and nemesis, (the real) Ned Schneebly and his girlfriend Patty. Cusack is appropriately low-status in the role, contrasted by the uptight fury of Edwards, and the pair provide a good foil to help Dewey/Smith shine.

As always with this show, the kids are the real stars. The production is double-cast with two sets of young performers, and I saw "Team Oogway". Many are already Little Theatre veterans.

Elika Clarke gives a very strong performance as band manager Summer, displaying self-assurance beyond her years.

Autumn Lisseman played bassist Katie, and drew an audible "awwww" from the audience when it became apparent that her bass guitar was bigger than her (I understand Lisseman had learned to play bass specifically for the part, so bravo to her for the confidence to play on stage already).

Katie Anderson played keyboardist Lauren, who finds her cool through her role in the band. Anderson brought charm and character to the part, growing from awkward tween to passionate musician.

Harvey Clarridge played drummer Freddy, and – to my untrained eyes – appeared to be the most accomplished musician amongst the young cast. He also sang with great clarity.

Aria Haswell was full of character as guitarist Zara, bringing a self-assured energy to every scene.

Ava Colford, playing Tomika, is a star in the making. Initially shy before revealing her beautiful singing voice, Colford played both sides of the character with assurance.

And Harry Woodward steals every scene as costume designer Billy, with a confident, zealous performance.

The leads and young cast are supported by the ensemble of parents and teachers who populate the children's lives, and provide the obstacle for the children to overcome as their confidence and sense of identity grows.

The Battle of the Bands sequence that concludes the show is the fun set piece you'd want it to be, and "You're in the Band" and "Stick it to the Man" are the iconic, crowd-pleasing numbers that will light a fire of rebellion in you.

It can't be denied that this production is a little rough around the edges – an inevitable consequence of rehearsing with two casts – but there's plenty of charm to be found here, along with a very talented bunch of young performers. Director Sam White has done a heroic job of pulling this together, and staging it in a way that feels fresh and not just a carbon copy of professional productions.

These children are the future of Leicester's amateur scene (and I dare say, a few professionals, too). It's wonderful to see them gaining confidence, experience, and a standing ovation. A few of them will be popping up again for KPAOS's production of Nativity! next month.

A fun, charming show, The IDOLS' production of School of Rock is at The Little Theatre until Saturday, October 14. Remaining tickets are limited, so book soon.



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