SCHOOL OF ROCK - MELBOURNE
SCHOOL OF ROCK: The Musical, GWB Entertainment & S&CO at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne. 14 November 2018-1 February 2019. Photography by Matthew Murphy
BY LIDDY CLARK
There was a lot of excitement on the footpath, in the foyer and in the theatre. Not surprisingly as many of the audience seemed to be the extended families of the hordes of children performing in the show; with a smattering of footballers and actors. A red carpet with photos with the rich and famous. A big warm-up. High anticipation.
School of Rock: the musical is based on the Jack Black movie and is a high-octane tribute to rock and to anarchy. The premise is slight, however the book by Julian Fellowes lifts it a notch or two and is funny and when you need it, a little bit poignant! Some great lyrics from Glenn Slater and surprisingly, the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber is too, a great tribute to rock.
While the plot is thin, with an unfocused, bone idle, living-in-the-past Dewey (Brent Hill) sponging off his best mate, Ned (played on opening night by Zachary Pidd) and unable to contribute to life or to the rent. Facing the prospect of being thrown out, he seizes on an opportunity to make money by impersonating said best mate (who is a teacher) and taking up a temporary position in the prestigious school Horace Green run with an iron fist by prim, stitched up over bearing principal Rosalie Mullins (Amy Lehpamer).
Dewey arrives late for his first day, hungover but still manages to inveigle himself into the job. It is from here that the show takes off.
Dewey has his work cut out for him, getting the principal and teachers on side and dealing with the kids. When he overhears a music lesson being taken by the principal, he sees his clear path and school of rock is born.
Hill as Dewey has the childlike charm that is needed here. He is naughty and irreverent, expelling exhausting energy that never wavers. It is a brilliant performance.
As the strait-laced (but I have a secret) Principal, Lehpamer hits all the right notes. How the unkempt brat Dewey gets around her stretches belief, but it still works. After a lot of big numbers the scene in the bar when she “lets it all hang out” with a number called Where did all the Rock Go is sensational.
But it’s the kids that naturally steal the show. Resident director, Leah Howard, (director Laurence Connor) brings out some great performances. The staging, the character development and their musical prowess are well defined. The opening night squad were all flawless.
It is impossible to mention all the kids – there are two teams. And yes, they play their instruments live, you cannot help but be moved by their artistry. Nerds become pint sized rock stars. They are all good, a highlight for me was Summer (Ava McInnes), not part of the band but she is the best miss bossy boots manager ever!
Another one that steals it is Jayden Tatasciore as Zack – playing a mean lead guitar that is almost bigger than he is, but it is his almost expressionless face that grabs you as he shimmies his way across the stage. When Tomika, the child that does not participate, (Chihana Perera) suddenly says she wants in and wants to be the lead singer, she brings the house down with a rendition of Amazing Grace, Yes, she makes the cut she is “in the band”. And Kempton Maloney is the best rock drummer with attitude.
It is a touring set (Anna Louizos) that works, each scene delineated without too much fuss with desks that are part of the action. The lighting (Natasha Katz) nails it.
Even though it is a buy-in, formula show, it is a big show, big cast, fantastic music. And an all-Australian cast, not an import to be seen, showcasing the depth of talent that we have in music theatre.
This is a great show for introducing young and old to the magic of theatre and live performance. It will be a sell-out.