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Review: School of Rock the Musical puts a boost of fun into a classic film

★★★★

In recent years we’ve seen a slew of musicals based on pre-existing properties, everything from Matilda to the upcoming Muriel’s Wedding. So when it comes to musical adaptations, School of Rock really seems like a no-brainer. It’s a well know property with a simple, family-friendly (and music-centric) story at its core.  However, what’s surprising about the latest musical to arrive on Australian shores is the calibre of talent involved, both backstage and on, to take a familiar story and craft something new and incredibly fun.

In a move some may find surprising, Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber returns to his rock roots, creating the music for the show. Along with lyricist Glenn Slater and playwright Julian Fellowes, Lloyd Webber has taken what, to be honest, is a fairly simplistic plot and managed to shift its focus. In the original film, Jack Black’s performance was what got the audience hooked. Here, it’s the songs. Starting with a bang, the rock-heavy music rarely lets up, keeping audiences engaged with the story while they tap their toes along to the rocking tunes. And when the kids finally pick up their instruments, the roof is blown off Her Majesty’s Theatre, as the repressed school kids are transformed into fully-fledged rock gods.

The story revolves around slacker musician Dewey Finn (Brent Hill) who finds himself kicked out of his band, without a job and behind on the rent. Opportunity presents itself when a call meant for his substitute teacher roommate, Ned (John O’Hara), finds Dewey working as a teacher at upper-class prep school Horace Green. While trying to earn a quick buck, Dewey finds himself connecting with the kids and exploiting their musical prowess in an attempt to earn his spot at the top of mount rock by winning the Battle of the Bands.

Along the way lessons are learned, by both the kids and Dewey, as they help each other find their true selves, all the while shredding the faces of the audience with tasty guitar licks and rocking solos. While most adults in the audience will connect with Dewey trying to win over uptight principal Ms Mullins (Amy Lehpamer), the true heart of the musical is the kids, who are put front and centre showcasing not only their acting talents but incredible musical abilities.

The show begins with an announcement, from Lloyd Webber himself, informing the audience that it is indeed each of the kids playing their own instruments, live on stage. From this point on, you know you’re in for something special. To single out any of the kid’s performances would do a disservice to the entire cast (three of which will be performing the roles throughout Melbourne’s run). Although each of the main characters is given a moment to shine, whether it be insane shredding on the guitar or a mind-melting vocal solo, the kids are the true stars of the show and they never let you forget it.

The local cast all bring their A-game, with Hill channelling the manic nature of Black’s original performance, and manipulating it into his own captivating beast, making his transition from oafish slacker to caring role model both hilarious and heartwarming. It’s Amy Lehpamer however, who delivers the show-stopping performance as the uptight principal with a hidden rock past. Her stirring rendition of 'Where Did The Rock Go?' not only marks the best song of the show, but a performance peak that is rarely surpassed.

As we travel with Dewey and the kids on their journey to the top of mount rock, you can’t help but become swept up in the fun. Its simple story doesn’t hamper the production, but instead allows the music and performances to shine. While some of the songs may be a little repetitive (and you may notice a familiar lick or two being repurposed), it still provides a rocking good time. School of Rock may not be the most emotional or original theatre experiences, it’s definitely one of the most fun, and one that’s sure to entertain audiences of all ages.

School of Rock the Musical is on now at Her Majesty’s Theatre from Wednesday to Sunday until February 3. Tickets available via schoolofrockthemusical.com.au