Review: School of Rock. Nottingham Royal Concert Hall.

I’m here at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham and I’m ready to “stick it to the man”. Based on the 2003 film of the same name, “School of Rock” will be bringing down the house until Saturday 20 October.

A “No Vacancy” drum kit sits front and centre of the stage as the auditorium fills, and leaves no doubt in the audience’s mind that this production is about to raise the roof! Before the entrance of the band, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber himself comes over the tannoy to inform us that the children really do play their instruments live…and boy do they PLAY them! Such talented performers!

The disco lights fill the auditorium and cue the entrance of the band and main man Dewey Finn (Jake Sharp) who “entertains” his audience with a fun and excitable performance that causes him to be kicked out of the rather serious band, paving the way for the rock, roll and comedy that follows as he attempts to make it at Battle of the Bands with his new musicians…a group of preppy unsuspecting kids.

Sharp is excellently cast as Dewey Finn and gives a highly energetic performance throughout. Whether singing, dancing, acting or all three, Finn is superb and completely commits to his role. His chemistry with the children is fantastic and this really adds to the sense of fun on the stage as well as some truly touching and heartfelt moments. Sharp also manages to capture an endearing side to Finn that, for this reviewer, was somewhat missing from Jack Black’s famous portrayal. His jokes and physical comedy are well timed, leading to much laughter from the audience. Sharp is a phenomenal showman and performer, and fully deserves the standing ovation receives during his bow.

The adult ensemble work well in their multiple roles, playing musicians, teachers and parents. Rebecca Locke (Rosalie Mullins) astounds the audience with her beautiful, classical soprano voice, and it contrasts well with the rock music that dominates. Her high notes are stunningly controlled. A stern teacher to begin with, her acceptance of a more fun loving side, with a little romance to boot, is lovely to watch. Although there is a sadness that she has to hide her true self for her profession. Conversely, Nadia Violet Johnson’s Patricia Di Marco is mean and cold…this reviewer almost wants to hiss and boo as one would a pantomime villain! The real Ned Schneebly, James Bisp, is hilarious as the downtrodden boyfriend and it’s great to see him gain confidence and his identity returning at the end of the musical.

The absolute standout moments of this production are undoubtedly and unsurprisingly those with the children. The choreography by JoAnne M Hunter for the children is brilliant from their regimented entrance at Horace Green School all the way to their freedom in Battle of the Bands. They absolutely exhume energy and this reviewer feels exhausted just watching them jump and bound around the stage, never dropping a note. Fabulous!

The ensemble numbers with the children are most impressive with “If only you would listen”, “Stick it to the Man” and the titular “School of Rock” being truly memorable numbers. The acapella “Amazing Grace” sung by Tomika (Jasmine Djazel) is a real crowd pleaser and demonstrates her skill, depth and soul…and from such a young performer! Summer (Saffia Layal), is suitably bossy and precocious while Billy (Alfie Moorwood) has the audience in fits of giggles with his strops and comedic facial expressions. While only three children are mentioned here, the whole team are wonderful as an ensemble and it’s fabulous that they are able to showcase their talents. This is particularly so at the end of the performance when this reviewer is in awe of the musical talents of those in the band.

The lighting design by Natasha Katz really adds to the overall show, in particular when showing reverence to rock or during the bands’ performances. It really feels that the theatre audience is being transported to an arena rock concert, even if some of the lights are a little blinding.

School of Rock is good fun with lots of laugh out loud moments; one of this reviewer’s favourite moments is a critique on the movie of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats”! The soundtrack (music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater) is toe-tappingly good. In fact, it’s stand up and dance good. After watching “School of Rock”, this reviewer certainly pledges alliance to the band!

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