Lessons in how to stage a feelgood, funny, family classroom comedy resumed at the theatre this week – a full ten months late – but it was well worth the wait.
If ever there was a time for a big-hearted musical packed with lots of laughs, terrific tunes and talented kids, it’s right now.
This is a pitch perfect take on the 2003 Hollywood movie that starred Jack Black as the irrepressible, shambolic, failed, wannabe rock star Dewey Finn.
But here we have newcomer Jake Sharp who works his socks off and proving to be just as hilarious as his screen alter ego.
The stage musical has a remarkable pedigree, with the great ALW, writing the music, Sister Act’s Glenn Slater the lyrics and book by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes.
But, more than that, it stars a bunch of talented kids, auditioned rigorously by Webber who are outstanding. No wonder the show is a global phenomenon.
Sharp is on stage for nearly the entire 120-minute performance and he barely pauses for breath. If he’s not leaping on desks and jumping up and down he’s darting across the stage singing, buffooning and wringing the script of gags.
Finn is an immature, slobbish layabout who’d rather spend the day picking fluff out of his navel than get a real job to pay the rent at his best mate Ned’s pad.
He’s been thrown out of the only rock band that’ll have him and his chances of making it to the annual Battle of the Bands gig are looking slim.
That is until the principal of a prestigious prep school calls teacher Ned asking him to do a few weeks as a supply teacher. Dewey takes the call and assumes the position after hearing that it pays a whacking $950 a week.
In this day and age that would raise all sorts of red flags but School of Rock operates in a more innocent era when an unqualified, totally inexperienced axeman can take a class of precocious 10-year-olds with no problems.
The class he’s to teach are prim and proper little darlings whose parents are paying $50,000 for them to be hot-housed for the Ivy League colleges. They learn the classics, collect gold stars and hit the educational treadmill with gusto.
Until Dewey turns up and hears them playing their violins, cello and piano. Lessons are cancelled and over the next few weeks they learn the finer points of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden et al. and enter the Battle of the Bands as a wild card.
But will they make it to the competition without the school and their pushy, ambitious parents finding out that Dewey isn’t a teacher and that the kids have been engaged in extracurricular activities?
Four of the little darlings – Katie, Zack (Hanley Webb), Freddy (Isaac Forward) and Lawrence (David Gluhovsky), prove naturals at the guitar, drums and keyboard.
And before the show gets under way Lloyd-Webber makes a public announcement to confirm that it really is the little poppets playing (little Ivy Balcombe, as Katie, is almost the same height as her bass guitar) and they’re remarkable.
Of the class of 12 there is also a standout turn by Alfie Morwood as the extrovert Billy who would rather read Vogue and design frocks than play football like his dad.
And then there’s Jasmine Djazel as the quiet, shy and out of place Tomika, who finds her voice and wows theatre-goers. A real star for the future.
Among the adult cast Rebecca Lock is a sensation as principal Mullins, who not only possesses a fine singing voice (those high notes!) but also a keen ear for comedy.
The songs are loud and rocking (it’s hard to believe ALW came up with them as it’s a real change of pace and style for him), the action energetic, the storyline predictable but entertaining and the entire package thrilling and upbeat.
The engaging Sharp turns in a stellar performance that merits a Gold Star for exuberance, energy and inspiration.
School of Rock plays at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday.