Thanks to Wales Millennium Centre for providing us with review tickets for School of Rock
If you’ve been reading Cardiff Mummy Says for a while you may well remember that way back in July 2018 we took a family trip to London to see School of Rock The Musical, in celebration of my husband’s 40th birthday. It was my children’s first West End experience and the show totally blew us away. I signed off that review by saying we loved it so much that I hoped it would come to Cardiff in the near future… and this week that’s exactly what has happened with the production at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff until Saturday as part of its first UK and Ireland tour (delayed a while due to the pandemic).
My eight year old youngest child and I were lucky enough to attend last night’s press performance and opening night. With pretty much a sell-out audience, the atmosphere in the Donald Gordon Theatre was buzzing from the moment we arrived. Speaking to audience members around me, it was clear that many of them love the 2003 movie starring Jack Black, several have seen the stage show previously, so naturally there was a lot of excitement. Knowing the story and the soundtrack is always great when you come to see a musical. However, even if you have no knowledge of either, this is a show that will impress with its energy, humour, and warmth, not to mention its soundtrack of soul-stomping rock anthems and heartfelt tender ballads, and its incredibly talented young cast (more on that later).
School of Rock is created by musical maestro Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote 14 original new songs for it (as well as including favourites from the film). Lyrics come from the acclaimed three-time Tony nominee Glenn Slater (who has also worked on the new Broadway musical The Little Mermaid, and stage favourite Sister Act), while Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame) wrote the book (theatre speak for the script).
As fans of the film will know, School of Rock is the story of Dewey Finn, a faded wannabe rock star fired by his band just before the all-important Battle of the Bands competition. He’s a freeloading layabout who has been scrounging off his friend Ned Scheebly for years, but even Ned and his girlfriend have had enough and want him out. So when Dewey takes a phone call meant for Ned, he decides to pose as his friend to earn some extra money as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. Turning up too hungover to teach, he tells the class they are on permanent recess…. that is until he realises his students are incredibly gifted musicians and he can use this to his advantage.
Jake Sharp plays Dewey and he’s absolutely brilliant; very likeable and charismatic. He’s on stage for the majority of the show and has so much energy and stage presence, jumping and singing and playing his guitar in what must be a really demanding role. He’s funny, vulnerable and, despite his unethical antics, you can’t help but root for him.
Rebecca Lock plays school principal Rosalie Mullins. She’s uptight and straight-laced, but Dewey helps her re-discover her love of rock and a less serious side. Lock is a very versatile vocalist, equally at home leading her class with the operatic Queen of the Night’s Aria, accompanying Stevie Nicks’s The Edge of Seventeen on the jukebox of a sleezy rock bar, or with the wistful Where Did The Rock Go? which will resonate with anyone who ever wondered how they got so grown up and serious. Matthew Rowland is Ned Schneebly and Nadia Violet Johnson his girlfriend Patty Di Marco. The two have good energy together and it’s great to see Ned standing up to his overbearing other half as the show progresses. Elsewhere there’s an ensemble cast of parents and teachers – but this show truly belongs to the 12 children in Dewey’s charge.
These young performers are utterly incredible with an enviable amount of talent on display. As a pre-recorded Andrew Lloyd Webber announces at the start, the children play their own instruments throughout the show… and he doesn’t just mean a few guitar strums or token drum riffs. The children – all aged between 9 and 13, with a rotating cast of three or four performers in each role throughout the tour – really do play their instruments to a high level, leading several of the musical numbers with such confidence and gusto. These academically-gifted kids soon realise that rock can help them express themselves, while Dewey learns as much from them as they do from him.
As for the music, if you’re expecting the kind of warbling ballads made famous from Lloyd Webber’s Cats or Phantom of the Opera, then you’d be wrong (and there’s even a funny little quip about the former in the show). The soundtrack is full of catchy upbeat rock and pop numbers which really showcase what a versatile musician he is. We loved the rendition of You’re In The Band where Dewey, posing as Mr Schneebly, gets the children to loosen up and channel their classical music training into rock riffs and baselines, as well as the anthemic Stick It To The Man, a two-fingered salute to the establishment (teachers and parents in this case). If Only You Would Listen is beautifully performed by the young cast, as they plead with their parents to actually notice them and to see them for their real selves, not what their parents want them to be, while the title track School of Rock gets the audience dancing in their seats.
The age guidance for the show is 8+ with no admittance to under 2s. My children were 8, 6 and 4 when they first saw it in London (that four year old is now 8 and came with my last night). Having listened to the soundtrack beforehand my husband and I knew there were a few instances of strong language, but we were happy for them to watch it and had no regrets after the show. At one point, one of the young cast members asks of a swear word in a song “can we say that?” so it’s clear even the show acknowledges this isn’t every day language to be repeated! As I mentioned in my original review of School of Rock in London, children do hear this language in playgrounds and when out and about so a production like this gives us an opportunity to explain such words and about using them in context.
A few naughty words aside, this is brilliant family entertainment for all ages; upbeat, energetic, heartwarming and with a kick-ass musical soundtrack. There are a few contemporary references and witty one liners which get the audience laughing, while the detailed sets impressively recreate the school, Dewey’s bedroom, and the stage at the Battle of the Bands.
All the main characters have their own transformative journey during School of Rock, with music the catalyst for this. As Andrew Lloyd Webber himself says in the programme notes, “I hope our show is testament to the empowering and unifying force of music”.
Indeed it is, Lord Lloyd Webber. Indeed it is.
School of Rock is at Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 21 May. Tickets cost from £19.50. Weekend shows are pretty much sold out but there’s some availability for tonight, tomorrow and Thursday, if you’re quick! Visit the Wales Millennium Centre website here.