I am a firm believer that life happens away from screens, but the main reason I found myself at School of Rock at the New Theatre Oxford on Tuesday night was because of the big screen: my eight-year-old daughter Poppy is a huge fan of the School of Rock movie and has watched it so many times that by osmosis I can recite entire scenes off by heart. The pressure was on for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage version to deliver: I had a mega-fan on my hands, and, to be honest, she’s not easily pleased…but, phew, not only did it keep her entertained, it left her feeling, in her words, “utterly inspired”.
If you’re not familiar with the 2003 film starring Jack Black, it tells the story of aspiring rock star Dewey who fakes it as a substitute teacher at an esteemed (stuffy) school and transforms his seemingly straight-laced (perhaps even nerdy) class into a show-stopping rock band. The theme of ‘sticking it to the man’ runs through as we see the scruffy misfit Dewey ditch the curriculum in favour of teaching rock history and using unconventional methods to uncover his students’ hidden strengths and celebrate their differences. It translates phenomenally well today as a musical as we see a diverse cast of awesomely talented children rip up the rule book on what we might have once considered pre-requisites for success and stardom (a certain body type, a particular style, a specific attitude). The story remains faithful to the film and with updated and additional dialogue (deliciously cheeky gibes at very current affairs), and of course Webber’s music in addition the originals from the film, the result is a very rich production with an immensely pertinent message. The sets are fabulous too, and expect a full rock-show experience when it comes to sound and lighting.
Black set the bar high for actors following in his footsteps to play Dewey but Jake Sharp delivers and builds on all those aspects of the character fans love: his naughtiness, his devotion to rock and the philosophy around it (rebellion, freedom, difference), and especially his natural ability to relate to and inspire the kids. Rebecca Lock playing Rosalie Mullins is absolutely captivating and completely endearing, as we see her metamorphose from stern Principal in opposition to Dewey’s work to being his aficionado and accomplice.I can’t celebrate enough what it feels like to see live theatre and especially a show delivered by such a young, enthusiastic, and gifted cast. Taking Poppy this evening felt more than a treat, it felt important. She witnessed the real-life within-reach talent of performers just a few years older than her and I know that by seeing them she realised she too could do something wonderful – something fun and creative and powerful – with her life. Over the last two years, my children have seen a lot of stuff on a lot of screens, and none of it compares to the tangible, inspirational joy brought by School of Rock.