STICK IT TO THE MAN!… is not the feeling you get coming out of the New London Theatre after seeing School of Rock. You come out with a smile, and the simultaneously peaceful yet adrenaline-filled feeling that can only come from seeing a show. But let’s face it – Andrew Lloyd Webber cannot write rock musicals. The rock band No Vacancy is cringe-worthy, but not on purpose – it’s hard to believe that Lloyd Webber has ever listened to a rock song in his life.
It’s a completely different genre to the film, without its charm and with slightly different, less subtle humour. The whole thing feels very watered down and kiddy-fied, without the edginess that made the film so great.
In fact, considering this show is based on a film with somewhat cult status, it doesn’t celebrate that film much. Some great lines were cut (personally I was disappointed that they didn’t use ‘Miss Mullins? You’re the man.’ ‘Thank you, Freddy.’) whereas some scenes, such as Dewey’s song about Math which Miss Mullins observes, translate perfectly from screen to stage.
Miss Mullins is the best of the adults, with the most intriguing story. Her song Where Did the Rock Go? brings a smile to the face of any music-lover and is relatable for practically any adult, whether you are into music or not. She really means ‘where did the real me go?’ and in this world of work, bills and not much else, it’s one of the more meaningful songs in the show. This is where Lloyd Webber shines: emotional songs that showcase the lyrics and make you just sit and listen.
Of course, the stars of the show are the kids. The kids are amazing, playing all their own instruments as well as any adult. Singing voices are always hit-and-miss with kids in musicals but when they all sing together their harmonies are perfect, and of course there are Tamika’s solos. Her story was delved into a lot more than it was in the film, but I was disappointed that she was a tiny little thing without the body issues from the film. Dewey does his speech about a big lady up on stage who makes everyone listen, but he addresses the whole class rather than one lonely, overweight kid.
I was moved by the kids’ performance of If Only You Would Listen and especially loved Tamika’s reprise later in the show. Her lines to Dewey about how he raised up her voice are the essence of both the film and the show – how Dewey, however irresponsible, is the only adult who really understands the kids and encourages them to think for themselves and do what they want to do.
The show has a lot of problems but I came out smiling and I thought about it a lot the next day. I wish there had been more lines for the adults: I loved Dewey’s line to the kids after he collapses on the floor: ‘Don’t look at me when I’m down! It’s like Lord of the Flies!’ and wish there had been more moments like that, because that’s part of the appeal of the film – it celebrates the energy of a child but in no way is it aimed at children.
Because of this, the show doesn’t really know its audience, a problem persistent in both the dialogue and the songs. Some of Dewey’s lines are a little inappropriate in front of the kids, but some are too appropriate for kids, such as when he repeats Summer’s lines in a mocking tone. The music is confused at times, with rockier (ish) songs throughout and then the odd operatic, prim and proper song from the teachers. I can see what they were trying to do but the juxtaposition didn’t work for me – it just felt weird.
It sounds like I didn’t like the show at all but I actually really enjoyed it. I was on my own in the theatre for the first time, which was an experience in itself (got lost on the way to the theatre, obviously) and it was soured a little by the restricted view but at the same time I was extremely close to the action. At the end, before the final song, Dewey lets you know that now is the time to take pictures, which I appreciated – often they won’t even let you do that during the encore. There were some really great moments, such as the costume changes at the end (I won’t spoil it), Summer’s reign of terror over her mother and basically any scene that had Preeya Kalidas in it.
I guess my main issue was that the film is one of my favourites and they failed to make me believe the kids’ band could really make it in the industry the way the film did. It’s all just a little twee, so I wouldn’t recommend going on your own, but it’s definitely one to take children to.
I will also mention, for anyone concerned about buying theatre tickets from them, that I booked School of Rock through lastminute.com and had no problems at all. The ticket cost £16 (£16! For a West End show!) and I just printed my confirmation and collected my ticket quickly and easily when I got there. I actually got a proper ticket too, which often doesn’t happen when you book through a third party.