School of Rock The Musical, Liverpool Empire Theatre Review

School of Rock The Musical
Image source: Rewritethisstory.com

Show: School of Rock
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool
Date: Tuesday 5 July 2022
Times: 14.30 & 19.30
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes incl. interval
Writer: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Julian Fellowes & Glenn Slater
Director: Laurence Connor
Performers: Jake Sharp, Rebecca Lock, Matthew Rowland, Nadia Violet Johnson, Ryan Bearpark, James Bisp, Chris Breistein, Samuel Haughton, Richard Morse, Annel Odartey, Joanna O’Hare, Amy Oxley, Helena Pipe, Craig Watson, plus the cast of children.

Exciting, laugh-out-loud and packed full of fun, School of Rock The Musical performed a memorable show at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre. From cast to staging, this is a truy astounding production!

School of Rock The Musical

School of Rock The Musical is based on the noughties classic Jack Black movie written by his fellow actor Mike White. This fun, rock-obsessed musical production made its debut on Broadway at the Winter Garden in 2015 and arrived at the West End the following year. School of Rock was the second of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals to have premiered on Broadway since Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971 and was a huge hit… and we have seen why!

Synopsis

The musical opens on a rockstar perfomance of ‘I’m Too Hot For You’ by band No Vacancy and we meet Dewey Finn with his less than attractive rock moves! Dewey is a struggling rockstar, desperate for cash to pay back his roommate and his take-no-messing girlfriend, and his big break after getting kicked out of the band. Dewey answers the phone in his appartment and it just happens to be the principle of a highly prestigious prep school looking for his substitute teacher roommate Ned. In this moment, Dewey sees an opportunity and pretends to be his friend, taking his place at Horace Green Prepatory School.

We meet his classroom of talented but conservative pupils. These kids are soon to be members of Dewey’s new band and compete in Battle of the Bands, as “Mr Schneebly” educates them in the way of rock and how to “stick it to the man”! We hear a highly entertaining collection of songs, with stand-out’s including ‘You’re In The Band’, ‘If Only You Would Listen’, ‘Where Did The Rock Go?’ and the big competition performance ‘School of Rock’!

Performance

I think blown away is an appropriate phrase. School of Rock The Musical is a laugh-out-loud production with unbelievable young talent oozing from the stage! Starting from the top, I must admit I had a mini starstruck moment when Jake Sharp took the stage as Dewey Finn. He exuberated that wild but lovable Jack Black energy; sat any further back and you could have mistaken him for the original Dewey! I am a huge fan of the movie so I had high expectations of a fun and lively night at the theatre, and that’s exactly what we got!

During the opening band performance there was an exciting purpley blue lighting hue through the fog that introduced the show as not your classic musical, but it almost felt like a real rock concert and again in the final scene. The sets were creative not just visually but in the way of engineering, with parallel, horizontal sliding school hallways with doors and central, vertical-sliding apartment sets which gave a multidimensional feel to the show.

The cast of children are absolutely phenomenal. In the final performance when a gorgeous little blonde dot of pure talent was playing his “face melting” guitar solo, I was on my feet thinking if that was my child, I would be crying at this point. Not only were they playing their instruments live on stage (guitar, bass, keyboard, drums) absolutely amazingly, but every single one of the young actors were true professionals which was, unfortunatey, proven when we all had to evacuate the theatre. There was around a half an hour delay in the performance just before the end of the first half after the cast were ushered off stage, the safety curtain came down and the lights came up. It was a gutting experience but although it did bring confusion and delay, the cast came back with the second half of the show as if nothing had happened. Not a single line was messed up or note out of place, and the audience were twice as impressed and ten times as enthusiastic in cheering for this stellar cast.

Memorable Moments

There were so many funny moments throughout the whole show, partly down to the genius comedy writing and equally the deliverance by Sharp and the fantastic kids. Sharp has the character down to a T with both his obviously slobby habbits and subtle comic manerisms that provide constant amusement. One of my favourite parts of the script was during the ‘You’re In The Band’ number when “parents doing Tiktok” and “vegan snacks” were mentioned… they cracked us all up! The part when the children ask to hear what Dewey’s got and he performs (very theatrically and with stage commentary) his new song ‘In The End if Time’ was brilliantly hysterical.

Another hilarious scene was when the principle entered the classroom unannounced and the fake Mr Schneebly flips the blackboard around, reading out the equation as “E equals M C tiny two” which caused such an audience eruption that they had to pause to let ot die down. Principle Mullins then finds Dewey’s guitar, asking if this is one of his “methods”. If you are a fan of the movie you will know this scene well. Dewey explains he has been teaching the dull subjects through music and after Principle Mullins asks to observe the class he has to perform his “method” spontaneously, and so ‘Math is a Wonderful Thing’ is born! The audience responded with bursts of laughter at Dewey and his classroom full of fantastic facial expressions.

“Mr Schneebly” (Sharp) and Principle Mullins (Rebecca Lock) had a brilliant chemistry, particularly in the all-revealing bar scene where the principle lets loose and shows her inner rock chick and the pair’s surprising connection is sealed with an impulsive kiss! Rebecca Lock is superb. Her solo was both entertaining and quite a spectacular moment. She went from serious and operatic to comedic, theatrical rock and won the hearts of the audience in this scene. The talented young actor and pianist playing Laurence had a brilliant reaction moment when his teacher desrcibed him as a “sex God” at parents night that had the audience howling once again.

Final Thoughts

The music was spectacular throughout and doubly impressive as the cast performed live whilst simultaneously acting and reacting to Dewey’s quirky and often eratic movements. Their final performances of ‘School of Rock’ and ‘Stick It To The Man’ were the exciting explosion that had been bubbling up. At one point little Zack plays the electric guitar behind his head and I can only imagine the practice that took to perfect.

If Only You Would Listen was quite an emotive performance and had a really powerful message that the young performers delivered beautifully. Every child on that stage is a sensational triple threat.

Furthermore, I love when a show makes use of the royal balcony boxes at the side of the stage and School of Rock did this really effectively. When the parents were refused access to the backstage area of the Battle of the Bands they rushed to watch their children perform at the front and appeared in the box – this gave the audience two places to look and made the whole thing feel more dynamic and real. The gentleman sat next to me even “ahh”-ed and pointed at one of the parent actors during their changed, hearfelt reaction to his child performing, as if he had forgotten it was acting! Now that speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Summary

If you love the movie, you will LOVE the musical! School of Rock The Musical is a celebration of music, individuality and childlike freedom. It is a family show with some cheeky langauge and an all-round phenomenal production!

Notes:

Target Audience: Age 8+
Content: Infrequent Mild Language

Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding

Further Links

Catch School of Rock The Musical this week at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre– click the venue link to get your tickets!