School of Rock: Jack Black to the max

Everybody rocking

Now for something different from what I normally cover: a touring West End musical from Andrew Lloyd-Webber. This might seem out of kilter with what he’s done before. For the composer of the high drama of Phantom of the Opera and the experimental Cats (that’s the original stage version), a feel-good musical based on a popular film isn’t what I’d expect. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Dewey Finn is a slacker who has been sacked from his job for laziness and kicked out of his band for being an attention-seeker. His ex-rocker housemate and his ex-rocker girlfriends now have steady careers. When he is mistaken for his housemate and gets a supply teaching job in a prestigious private school he decides to recruit the kids into a new band. Will he succeed at form a band of rockers with bangin’ choons? Will Dewey discover for the first time in his life the joys of being looked up to as a role model? Will the parents of these kids who insist on a joyless life of geometry and history of antique furniture be blown away by the most awesomest Battle of the Bands performance and reconnect with the children in a new way? Apologies for giving away the entire plot with these rhetorical questions, but, be fair, it’s an easily guessable plot.

So, why did Lloyd-Webber pick a format so maligned? There is no shortage of films made into West end musicals, most of which are promptly forgotten. The biggest problem I think these shows have is that they specifically worked as films. Especially modern films which increasingly rely on CGI effects to wow cinema audiences. Nine times out of ten, even the best-resourced West End theatre can only produce a worse version of what already exists on screen. The difference here, I think, is an opportunity to do something better. It’s an open secret that most band performances in films are a heavily edited mix of actors pretending to play and session musicians providing a the real. Not nearly as impressive as the real thing. And, as Andrew Lloyd-Webber says at the start of the performance: yes, the kids on stage are really playing the instruments you see.

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