By Carly Fisher
After months of touring around the country and through Asia, it was finally time for the Australian cast of School of Rock to come to Sydney to Stick it to the Man! Opening at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney seemed very ready to embrace the rock and roll that this cast – particularly those under 5 foot – were more than ready to share.
This show’s success lies completely in the hands of the kids. They are impressive young performers, many of whom exceed triple threat status by adding in a strong command of an instrument, who really do leave you believing that if this is the future of musical theatre in Australia, we are only at the beginning of our theatrical peak. The training that these kids have is evident not only in their skill, but in their professionalism as well and whether you’re loving the show or not, you absolutely cannot help but root for these kids throughout.
I’m far from done speaking about the pint-sized extraordinary talents but want to take a minute to recognise the immense commitment and contribution by the families of each child in this company in making this show happen and their kid’s dreams a reality. It is no small sacrifice to have a child working in the performing arts and what a great gift these families are giving to their young stars and to the public by sharing their talents. A huge congratulations too to the teachers and studios behind the training of these superstars as well.
The show itself won’t be for everyone. Despite the ‘rockstar’ team behind the show – Julian Fellowes (Adults, you’ll likely know his writing from Downtown Abbey) wrote the book, Andrew Lloyd Webber is behind the music and Glenn Slater, the lyrics (Tangled and Love Never Dies) the actual book and songs just aren’t very good. There’s a couple bops in there – Stick it to the Man and You’re in the Band – that get you through to the much stronger finale but all in all, no matter the talent you put behind this show, unfortunately many of the songs sound so similar that you can’t remember one from another and the book in between is simply, lame.
But talent is one thing that this production is far from shy of. With Brent Hill in the lead role of Dewey Finn, even the lame script is almost forgivable because he gives it such a quirky charm and honestly, who doesn’t just want to cheer for Brent Hill…I mean, the guy is awesome! Amy Lehpamer as Principal Rosalie Mullins is an inspired casting choice – Lehpamer’s voice simply soars and it was a refreshing break in the show to just sit back and listen to one of Australia’s best belt it out.
The ensemble was tragically underutilized considering some of the EXCEPTIONAL talents in the adult ensemble which seems a real shame because I think that the book and subsequent songs would be so greatly enhanced by a bit of emotional depth from the adult characters. The show as a whole resolves so quickly once it resolves – for a couple hours we see uptight adults unwilling to give creativity a chance, and then in the last 5 minutes, it’s all hunky dory and creativity will be our savior. It’s a shame that this great moment of enlightenment is written so neatly, so quickly and so last-minute because it is an important message that many of us in the Arts would love people to hear...
You can have a passion for the Arts and a solid education. You can follow your dreams and follow your potential. These things are not mutually exclusive. Kids, give the Arts a try – if it even just makes you happy like it does for the characters in the show, it is worth doing as well as school!!
At this point, this show is a very well oiled machine and it was clear. The cues – both on stage and through all the tech elements – are sharp and on point. However, the lighting is so in your face at times that it is distracting and uncomfortable (and to be honest, odd at the grand Capitol theatre…this show is definitely more suited to the sister venue, the Lyric Theatre, in terms of its vibe). The sound mixing felt very off to me – it was really hard to hear the dialogue at times and then some of the songs honestly were screechy. However, when I saw the show on Broadway the same tech elements applied and so I imagine these are deliberate choices.
Things I didn’t really like were how much of the stage felt under-utilized or empty at times – those back corners felt like sink holes – and even in the final scene, that rock concert could have been a lot more immersive.
But all of this, in my eyes, could have been forgiven if the choreography (Joann M. Hunter) had been stronger because to me, this was the most distracting part of the production. Reverting back to my previous comment, these kids are well trained and many come from the country’s best dance schools. I would imagine, from knowing the industry and the level of talent even at an eisteddfod level, that casting this was a rigorous process and that a great deal of young talent walked through the door…and yet these kids stood out. I am positive that they can do more than the simplistic choreography of this show (largely jumping up and down on the spot) demanded of them. I wish that this show had proven the talents of the kids more in the dance arena, as it did in the singing, and that kids watching the show would have been more inspired to jump up from their seats and back into their dance classes. The show was missing a certain oomph for the adult audience members, and I think that, at least for me, the choreography was largely it.
The kids are extraordinary. What they can do on their instruments at such a young age should have musicians of all ages watching their next steps. They are triple threats ++ and many of them will go far and I’m excited to see it!
For this show, it’s for the kids – take a tween and get a ticket. Adults only…this one may not be quite your speed.
Image Credit: Matthew Murphy
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.