School of rock – Lessons in laughter

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So this week I’m not writing a restaurant column, well don’t worry there’s plenty of reviews coming up, but right now I wanted to share an experience that I enjoyed so much I didn’t want to keep it to myself. So for one night only (for now,) with the delightful dining companion transformed into delightful theatre goer (DTG) we made our way to the New London theatre to take in a performance of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s new(ish) musical ‘School of Rock.’

We’d dined earlier at somewhere so delicious, I think I’ll keep it my little secret (and probably Tripadvisor’s, Zagat’s etc. etc.) for now, before commencing our short walk to the theatre. The New London is a theatre which to say is lacking aesthetic qualities is a bit like calling a long handled metal tipped digging implement a spade. It pretty much looks like a multi-storey car park designed by aliens who’ve only ever read about traffic management in magazines.

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The theatre might be ugly, but it’s relatively modern design means that it works. The bars are plentiful and spacious, the seats generally give a good view of the stage from pretty much all the auditorium and the acoustics are good. What it lacks in beauty I feel it makes up in functionality.

Enough way of the surroundings, like whoever left the theatre whistling about the fire safety curtain, how was the show? Personally I think that ‘School of rock’ is Andrew Lloyd Weber’s attempt to prove to himself that he’s still relevant in a world dominated by anarchic comedic (Book of Mormon) and family friendly (Matilda, Aladdin) musicals.

The play follows the film’s plot pretty closely, and for those unfamiliar with it I’d recommend the rather excellent Wikipedia entry which goes into rather more detail than I have time for here. The original movie though was a film with a couple of songs, much like The Producers, rather than a fully-fledged musical.

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The songs here have been artfully placed so as to complement the narrative flow rather than interrupt it and prove an artful pastiche of many rock standards. You find yourself listening to something you’ve never heard before and thinking of another song that’s on the tip of your tongue, but that your mind can’t quite place. Oddly pleasant.

I have to agree with many of the professional critics, that these songs are not the most outstanding that Lloyd Weber has ever penned, but I don’t think that’s important. They work in terms of the musical, they’re enjoyable, tuneful and disposable. For me there was only one misfire ‘if only you would listen.’ This brought the students on the stage one by one to complain about their parent’s apparent deafness to their needs. To me it seemed like Lloyd Weber envious of the hearty residuals Tim Minchin now enjoys from Matilda’s ‘When I grow up’ was determined to pen his own version with disappointing results.

images-11The performances the night we saw it were top notch, perhaps helped by the fact the leads were being played by the understudies, which often actually does add a bit of zing to the proceedings. The kids in the band though were something else, so precious and proficient with their instruments that watching them was bound to make any 10 year potential musician either throw in the towel or try twice as hard. Even I whilst watching thought it might be time to pick up a guitar again.

Any major differences from the film, naw, not really. Dewey Finns and Rosalie Mullins hinted attraction to each other in the film is now made more explicit, yes there are a lot more songs and seeing it live makes it even funnier. The Dewey Finn here on stage does an excellent job of channelling the spirit of the Jack Black original, though perhaps with a tiny bit of Robin Williams thrown in.

For a show with kids in it, I think that this is exceptionally kid friendly show, and will like the film hopefully allow children an entry point into the world of rock through more serious music.

Would I take my children to see this, yes. Would I take my Mother to see this again a yes. Would I go again, well hell yes. This was a blast, a riot, something I never expected from ALW and the bloke who wrote Downtown Abbey. All I can say now is rock on.

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