Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock has made its way to Melbourne with spectacular casting and impressive staging. It’s sure to leave all visitors thoroughly entertained and with a desire to “Stick It to The Man” after smashing all expectations.
Slobby Dewey Finn has grand dreams of being a god-like rockstar, but those dreams just aren’t coming true. Failure after failure, he’s free-loading off his old bandmate turned straight-laced teacher Ned Schneebly, something his partner, Patty Di Marco, isn’t too happy about. She gives Dewey an ultimatum: pay rent in 30 days, or get out. The phone rings and adventures follow. Based on the movie of the same name starring Jack Black, the stage version gives us more opportunity to really connect to the children tied up in the story.
Dewey Finn is undeniably the role Brent Hill was born to play. That might be the most common statement about his performance and it’s because it’s indisputably true. His charisma and truly versatile skills lend themselves to this performance. It’s a huge show and his energy never fades. He is a tour de force. His generosity on stage rallies together the talented cast and his humour is perfect. It’s difficult to pinpoint specific moments he soars, but the first a cappella version of “In the End of Time” was impressive and the audience loved Hill-lead “You’re in the Band”.
Amy Lehpamer continues to excel in her career by taking on the challenging role of Principal Rosalie Mullins. She lets the complexities of the character come through and “Where Did the Rock Go?” showcases her stunning vocals. Lehpamer’s acting chops helps the character be relatable and authentic. She delivers some of the most touching moments of the show, bringing heart and humanity. Hill and Lehpamer deliver extraordinary, Helpmann-worthy performances and their scenes together are particular highlights.
Filling in for John O’Hara while he recovers from a significant injury, Zachary Pidd as Ned Schneebly is loveably dorky and a character clearly stuck between a rock and a hard place. Nadia Komazec’s talent has slowly but surely been seen more on stage in recent large-scale shows. Unfortunately, Patty Di Marco is a character without much of a chance to showcase Komazec’s full potential, but she does shine in the moments available. The adult ensemble actors are dynamic and versatile. Changing between parents and teachers, as well as smaller roles, they’re important but often thankless roles due to the focus on the children. No Vacancy’s “I’m Too Hot for You” is a great way to begin the show and set the tone.
The opening night children’s cast provided some truly special performances. With a dozen children on stage and many of them playing instruments live, it’s a truly wonderful accomplishment to all involved. The show begins with Andrew Lloyd Webber himself telling us the children are indeed playing live. The crowd was gobsmacked at just how talented the children are. Coming together in “If Only You Would Listen” and its reprise gives these children’s roles a chance to be further understood and empathised with in these touching moments.
Chihana Perera’s quiet Tomika will knock your socks off with her vocals in “Amazing Grace”. Ava McInnes as band manager Summer delivers the goods with “Time to Play”. Jayden Tatasciore as Zack made lugging around a guitar only slightly smaller than him look cool as he effortlessly shredded and slid around stage. Lenny Thomas as flamboyant stylist Billy nailed the humour and brought laugh after laugh. Samantha Zhang struts her stuff as cool bassist Katie. Kempton Maloney lets loose as drummer Freddy. Orlando Schwerdt’s Lawrence on keyboard goes through an awesome rock-transformation.
Riya Mandrawa as Marcy and Ava Rose Houben-Carter as Shonelle are effervescent and in constant-motion adding a great layer of energy to the show as talented backup singers. Oscar Mulcahy as Mason, the lighting guy, fulfils a smaller role in a wonderful way. Zac El-Alo as James, the band’s security, and Maya Corbett as Sophie the roadie, round out the children’s cast fantastically in smaller but still significant roles, adding to the immersive experience. You’re really watching a class all being able to contribute, joining together to climb to the top of Mount Rock.
The epic rock music is stunning and constant during the show, executed by a live band as well as the children’s cast. The sets were luscious with seamless changes creating a more involved set than some of our other big musicals, supported by a fantastic lighting design that can really get into it for the finale. The costumes developed all the characters, with even the children’s uniforms having slight variations to show personality. While there were a couple of moments of sound difficulty on opening night, it’s easy to understand with the amount of movement on stage and just how much there is to be on top of. The choreography is exciting and animated, pumping life into every moment, allowing the children’s energy to really amp up the bigger scenes with lots of movement. With so many elements at play, Laurence Connor’s direction keeps the show tight and cohesive.
It could be easy to pigeon-hole School of Rock into just another one of “those” shows that you “might” see when there are discounts at the end of the season. But truly and honestly, my expectations were blown out of the water. You’ll leave feeling thoroughly entertained and with a smile plastered firmly across your face. And for an added bonus, it’s a show the whole family can enjoy.
With a touching ending after plenty of laughs and showcased talent, this is fantastic entertainment. School of Rock is an absolute joy celebrating the power of music and putting the spotlight on some incredible young talent. No one can stop this School of Rock.
School of Rock is on at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre before seasons in Brisbane and Sydney.
Photos by Matthew Murphy