School of Rock – Royal & Derngate – Northampton

Having been a fan of the 2003 film starring the irrepressible Jack Black, I was really looking forward to this musical and I was not left disappointed! This is the best musical I have seen for a long, long time. It was incredible from start to finish. I loved the film and love this musical even more!

All cinema goers will be familiar with the storyline. School of Rock follows Dewey Finn, a struggling wannabe rock star, who poses as a supply teacher at a prestigious school, the Horace Green preparatory school. After hearing the musical talents of the students in his care, Dewey forms a band to try and win an upcoming Battle of the Bands contest and use his winnings to help pay his rent and regain his place in the Heavy Metal band No Vacancy, from which he has been sacked!

He turns a class of academic school students into a guitar-screaming, bass-smacking, amazing school rock band. Dewey (Jake Sharp) picks Zack Mooneyham (Harry Churchill) as lead guitarist, Freddy Jones (Isaac Forward) as drummer, pouting cello player Katie (Daisy Hanna) on bass, pianist Lawrence (Angus McDougall) on keyboards, and of course, himself as lead vocalist and guitarist. He allocates the rest of the class to various other roles as co-lead and backup singers, costume & roadies, with `five star` high achiever Summer Hathaway (Evie Marner) as the band manager, much to her delight! The scene when Summer is seen convincing the `Battle of the Bands` staff into thinking that the kids were terminally ill was very silly and amusing.

Jake Sharp who played Dewey made it feel like Jack Black was on stage in front of you. Sharp was fantastic, you could see the energy dripping from his vigorous performance, but the real stars of the show were the kids. Not only are they great musicians but they are obviously having a great time too! There are some very talented children that make up “ The School of Rock” band. These kids can seriously Rock! Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s recorded voice at the very start promises us that they can all play their own musical instruments. Otherwise, I might not have believed it, they were so good!

What did surprise me when I was looking through the programme notes was that Julian Fellowes, he of Downton Abbey fame amongst many other acclaimed television & film productions was responsible for adapting the screenplay into a theatrical format. Fellowes helps develop the well -known story effortlessly from screen to stage.

Where did they find such capable kids? They come from all over the United Kingdom as part of a touring group including Northampton! Local lad Angus McDougall performs brightly as Lawrence, thumping out the notes on keyboards in the band. A really, really cool character! There are forty children in the `children`s cast` who rotate the twelve `school kids` characters throughout the national tour. Jake Sharp as Dewey is phenomenal. How he manages this high energy performance is truly amazing! It was superbly entertaining from start to finish.

The show manages to stay focused by telling the story extremely well, developing some of the underlying issues for the children as the show progresses, parents spending too much time at work to notice their child`s needs, pushy parents driving forward an academic agenda for their kids, the quiet child struggling to make friends and kids worrying about being uncool.

Dewey helps the students to embrace their musical talents and overcome these insecurities. He reassures Lawrence, who is worried about not being cool enough for the band, Zack (Harry Churchill), whose overbearing father disapproves of rock, and Tomika (Tia Isaac) who is too self-conscious to audition for co-lead and backup singer despite having a powerful voice. During one lesson, he assures the kids that rock and roll can help them stand up for themselves.

The musical numbers were awesome and extremely catchy; it was so hard to stay still in my seat. The scintillating guitar riffs made me want to get up on stage and jam with these kids! There were times when I felt as though I was at a live rock concert. The kids, musical abilities including their singing and harmonies were very good. “If Only You Would Listen” was for me one of the most memorable, sung perfectly by the whole Children`s cast. Even when the focus was not on them you could see that the young people were still fully engaged. The set and lighting design was inventive; seamlessly shifting from scene to scene and totally transforming the stage, with simple moves and clever lighting.

Rebecca Lock as Ms Rosalie Mullins for much of the show, a strict authoritarian Head principal suddenly takes centre stage with a song, “Where Did the Rock Go? and a dramatic change of character! What an amazing voice! Opera style one-minute then soft rock ballad the next. Eat your heart out Stevie Nicks! Her short scenes alongside Sharp, particularly in the bar, when she bursts into song and lets down her guard, were a real delight, showing a real tenderness and sensitivity to elements of the story.

The last few scenes were really great, a full-on concert experience! I just wish the concert could have lasted longer! The finale was brilliant, a real feel-good production loud, funny and really enjoyable for all ages! The songs were great. I drove home singing “stick it to the man”.

The cast were amazing, it was laugh out loud funny and I would fully recommend the show to both young and older! On the press night I attended there were many young faces in the audience, a late night for many on a school night, but one not to be missed! I can’t think of any reason why anybody wouldn’t enjoy this show. It is a really great night out; the young cast were incredibly talented actors & musicians. It is a funny and hugely feel good musical, all of the audience left with enormous smiles on their faces. Grab your ticket now before they are all gone!

Featuring 14 new songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber and all the original songs from the movie, SCHOOL OF ROCK is a full-throttle tribute to the power of Rock music.

School of Rock continues all week at Royal & Derngate, Northampton until Saturday June 11th

 Tickets are selling fast so be quick! Rock On