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Phil Willmott

Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK at the New London Theatre

School of Rock It's been a tough few decades for Andrew Lloyd Webber since the 1980s when announcement of a new show by him would prompt a ticket buying frenzy keeping hits like EVITA, CATS and PHANTOM in the West End for years. Of the big mega hits only PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is still running.

I say "only" but it's an extraordinary achievement to have created something that's been so loved by so many people for so long in London and on Broadway. In recent years however the composer's new pieces have failed to take root and grow into long running hits.

I happen to think future generations will look more favourably than we have on his later compositions like THE WOMAN IN WHITE, THE BEAUTIFUL GAME, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND and LOVE NEVER DIES, all of which scarcely registered with the public and closed disappointingly early. Maybe even his last show the bewilderingly underwhelming STEPHEN WARD will be reassessed. For the moment however his Lordship is, unusually, on a bit of a high.

This year's revival of SUNSET BOULEVARD starting Glenn Close was much admired and is heading for New York whilst his new piece, SCHOOL OF ROCK, has made the journey the other way; It opened successfully in the US before opening at London's New London Theatre to enthusiastic reviews.

Whilst it's not generating the type of soaring ticket sales of yesteryear, (you can get tickets for most performances) things are in very healthy shape and there's much to enjoy in the production's formulaic pleasures.

Based on the popular movie comedy starring Jack Black it's the story of a rock and roll deadbeat who lies his way into a teaching position at an elite school and resurrects his own career by moulding the uptight, classical music playing, kids into a band.

As you'd expect the experience brings the kids out of their shells and as soon as we learn that the authority figure obstructing their progress is a buttoned up sexy, librarian type we know she'll end up in love with the maverick newcomer.

All unfolds exactly as we've seen in the film and in countless other comedies in which a group of misfits work together to achieve an unlikely triumph and in which an underdog wins the heart of a fair maiden.

David Finn is tirelessly hard working, through scene after scene in the Jack Black teacher role which he pulls off through talent, stamina and cuddly charisma; whilst the kids who play the pupils are as adorable and talented as one would hope. They sing, they act, they actually play, rather than mime with, the instruments they're holding (A Lloyd Webber announcement before the show starts assures us of that) and, what's more, they move furniture! Boy, do they move furniture?! Adaptor Julian Fellowes and director Laurence Conner keep the action progressing at such a lick that it seems no sooner have the little mites pushed on their desk for a classroom moment than the scene ends and they're pushing them off again. I imagine memorising what gets pushed where and when is far more difficult than anything their actual performance requires.

The songs contain several hook lines that stay with you. I certainly couldn't get "Stick it to the Man" out of my head and there's an act two ballade, in which the buttoned up librarian type mourns her lost rock chic youth, which may stand the test of time.

This show isn't going to rock anyone's world for very long but it's an extremely enjoyable entertainment for both families and couples on date nights, in a West End already blessed with the wittier classroom hijinks of MATILDA.

School Of Rock