BWW Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK amps up Melbourne on opening night!

Review by Ian Andrew

Fans of the original School of Rock movie; rejoice! Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation of the 2003 film is a joyful, colourful evening of high-energy entertainment.

BWW Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK amps up Melbourne on opening night!The musical adheres closely to the plot of the film, following struggling rocker Dewey Finn as he is kicked out of his band, and nearly kicked out of his apartment. Desperate for rent money, Finn impersonates his housemate Ned Schneebly in order to gain work as a substitute teacher a wealthy, private primary school. After discovering the students' musical ability he begins to transform the class into a rock band with the aim of entering the upcoming 'Battle of the Bands' contest, unbeknownst to the school staff including stern principal Ms Mullins. Through his unorthodox pedagogy, the children learn to stand up for themselves and let their voices be heard.

This production faithfully transplants the sets, costumes, props and choreography of the original London and Broadway productions onto the Melbourne stage, brought to life by director Laurence Connor, choreographer JoAnn M Hunter, scenic and costume designer Anna Louizos and lighting designer Natasha Katz. Musical supervisor John Rigby leads a tight band of musicians which blends seamlessly with cast playing live instruments onstage thanks to slick sound design by Mick Potter.

Leading the show is Brent Hill as struggling rockstar Dewy Finn, admirably filling the role made iconic by Jack Black. Hill is eminently likeable in the part, exuding an infectious enthusiasm and warmth throughout the whole show. Spending only a few short minutes offstage, Hill tackles the physically and vocally demanding part with apparent ease and unwavering energy.

Amy Lehpamer was in every way Brent Hill's equal as upright school principal (and closet rock-chick) Rosalie Mullins with great presence and comic timing and a stand-out rock-ballad giving audiences a chance to see why Lehpamer shines as one of Austalia's leading musical theatre actors.

Zachary Pidd and Nadia Komaczec were suitably cast as spineless best friend Ned Schneebly and his overbearing girlfriend Patty, with the multitalented ensemble seamlessly alternating between roles as teachers, parents and rival band members.

BWW Review: SCHOOL OF ROCK amps up Melbourne on opening night!But of course, the true stars of the show are the supremely talented child cast - on this occasion Ava Rose Houben Carter, Maya Corbett, Zac El-Alo, Samantha Zhang, Riya Mandrawa and Oscar Mulchay, with particularly memorable performances by Orlando Schwerdt as keys player Lawrence, Lenny Thomas as flamboyant stylist Billy and Chihana Perara as lead-singer Tomika. Ava McInnes led the class of children as precocious manager Summer, stealing the show along with the incredibly talented drummer Kempton Maloney (Freddy) and lead guitarist Jayden Tatasciore (Zach). As the voice of Andrew Lloyd-Webber proclaims from the heavens before the show, all of the children play their instruments live - and boy did they play. Audiences were treated to an indulgently-enjoyable collision of Matilda-meets-AC/DC with standout numbers 'You're In The Band' and 'Stick It To The Man' guaranteed to have you humming along all the way home.

School of rock is not a perfectly written show - much of the score is forgettable, and the attempts to shoehorn in topical issues such as pay-inequality feel awkward at best. Nonetheless, the performances from the two leads and the troupe of children are not to be missed as they truly showcase some of the immense talent - both present and up and coming - that Australia has to offer.

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