- Flora Gosling
Review: School of Rock (Theatre Royal Glasgow)
Updated: Jun 1, 2022
Adapting popular films for the stage is a double-edged sword. The novelty of seeing the same story on stage, often word-for-word, will divide audiences cleanly down the middle into people muttering about how it wasn’t as good as the movie, and people who are just happy to see something familiar and get out for the evening. But even so, School of Rock The Musical has seen great success since its premiere in 2015, and a story of a man who teaches children in a fancy private school the power of rock definitely has a theatricality to it.
(Photo Credit: Paul Coltas)
The question on everyone’s mind is who will fill the shoes of Jack Black as Dewey Finn, a broke, perpetually-hungover 30-year-old who can’t let go of his dreams of stardom. Jake Sharp has a hard time under Black’s shadow, and ultimately his performance does a great job at showing just how difficult the role is. The necessity to be more endearing than you are irritating is a big ask for a character as selfish and whining as Dewey, and it is a balance that Sharp does not quite achieve. The energy is there, and he is certainly never shy, but the charm is lacking. A surprising highlight is Rebecca Lock as Rosaline Mullins, the stuck-up principal of the school, who elevates the role above standard school-teacher villainy. The precision in her movement and speech are both engrossing to watch, and her superb operatic vocals effectively illustrate the divide between her world and Dewey’s. But between them, there is not much that stands this adaption apart from the film to make it worth going to see, so what is the big draw?
(Photo Credit: Paul Coltas)
It's the children. What School of Rock showcases is an all-star school talent show, the likes of which you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Eva McGrath, for example, is a young drummer that seems to have bottled the essence of Animal the muppet, and when Effie Lennon Ballard plays the cello with so much grace you have no way of knowing how cool she will be with a bass guitar in her hand by the end. Though the acting is questionable at times (they’re kids after all, not robots) Florence Moluluo more than makes up for it in the role of fussy know-it-all Summer, performing lengthy and hyper-specific exchanges that actors three times her age would struggle to deliver. Watching them all together alerts the audience to what it means to be in the moment at the theatre; we often see talented young people on the internet, but being able to see it in person is a rare privilege.
Being in the moment does raise a few questions about some of the outdated choices of the show however. It is littered with fat jokes and curiously leaves out an emotionally impactful scene from the film about body acceptance. Some moments seem quite progressive, raising issues of objectification and the gender pay gap, which makes it all the more strange when Dewey fist-bumps one of his pupils for suggesting that rock music exists to “score chicks”. It would have been a useful opportunity to correct the character, demonstrate how attitudes have changed and actively influence how acceptable sexist language is in the music industry. Worse still is how Dewey adopts a blaccent (imitating phrases and speech patterns of BIPOC people) when he is being uncouth and crude, and the use of a Native American headdress as a prop (which is no more justifiable in Scotland than it is in the States).
There is also something more fundamental about the musical which is worth questioning. One of the things that makes the film so beloved is the soundtrack and its celebration of rock icons. Here, those same songs are overlaid with Webber’s original musical numbers, and aren't integrated like some other rock musicals (Bat out of Hell, for example). Solid though several of the songs are (“Stick it to the Man” is catchy and a lot of fun), it never really succeeds as a stand-alone musical, and certainly doesn’t succeed as a celebration of classic rock. The two are simply stacked on top of each other in a blandly commercial effort to entice rock fans without rocking the boat by making too many changes.
Cynics of the state of British theatre will curse it for its lack of innovation, but the fact is, School of Rock The Musical is a certified crowd-pleaser. It is fun, family-friendly (mostly), and has some real talent on stage. Sometimes it is necessary to ask whether, if this was the only show a particular person or family went to see this year, would they be happy. In this case, I am certain that they would. Four stars.
Whispers from the Crowd:
I really liked it, it was really good. I really like musicals and this is one of the best I’ve seen.
Stick it to the man was really good, but I didn’t like the lights shining in my eyes.