REVIEW: School of Rock: The Musical (The Civic)

Review by Sharu Delilkan

[Essential Education]

As we take our seats at the Civic we are immediately transported to the smoky bars of a bygone era synonymous with rock bands. The simplistic drum kit with brick wall backdrop is a clever device that instantaneously evokes that trip down memory lane.

Instead of the customary ‘turn your cell phones’ announcement as the lights dim, we are ‘greeted’ by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s booming voice dispelling any doubts that the children featured will indeed be playing their instruments live on stage.  And so the tone is set. What follows is a series of scenes introducing the central adult characters that eventually lead us to the infamous Horace Green Prep School, made famous by Jack Black in School of Rock the movie.

Despite the indelible memory of Black’s performance etched in our memories, Joe Kosky aka Dewey Finn wins us over immediately. His natural charm gives his character a genuineness that makes Kosky extremely endearing and highly watchable from the get-go.

For those unfamiliar with the storyline, School of Rock is essentially a story about the empowering force of music.  A wannabe rock star posing as a substitute teacher turns a class of straight-A students into grade-A rockers.  The children start off as Dewey’s foils, but end up the centre of attention when the tables are turned.  The same is mirrored with the relationship between parents and the principal who start off in-charge and ultimately dance to their children’s and Dewey’s tune. This unfolds as the kids start gaining confidence and embodying their respective band personae. 

As a live performance School of Rock is a joyous inter-generational treat.  While it brings out the child in some of us, it also has the ability to resonate in different ways triggering fond memories through music.

The children’s cast that is front and centre for a majority of the show definitely and truly hold their own in this multi-generational production.  Their individual performances are captivating and ‘the band’ in the pit skilfully complements them, creating a full and rich sound.

The original, somewhat flimsy, but straightforward storyline, is of a wannabe failed rock star pushing his agenda onto his newly adopted students. However, Julian Fellowes’ book manages to shine the spotlight on a plethora of themes. These include sexuality, spirituality, anti-smacking and above all highlighting rock n roll as the perfect vehicle to “Stick it to the Man” – to stand up for yourself.

It’s fabulous that the School of Rock stage musical has managed to maintain its rawness despite clearly being a well-oiled machine.  This is skilfully achieved by making the set relatively simple — the use of dry ice to simulate a smoky ambiance is again basic in execution but highly effective. Which in turn maintains the production’s raw edge epitomising rock n roll at its core. The lighting choices are once again effective but not too in your face until their final performance at the Battle of the Bands scene.  And the non ‘Disney-esque’ ending is the icing on the cake.

So whether you’re coming to enjoy the music or an uplifting performance, School of Rock is the perfect place to bring multiple generations together through live performance.  Don’t miss it.

School of Rock: The Musical plays The Civic until 29 September. 

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