Review: School of Rock at the Wales Millennium Centre

I didn't expect to come out of the theatre raving about this show, but let me tell you I absolutely did! The musical adapatation of the cult family classic School of Rock is a riot of high-octane energy that never dips, side-splitting comedic moments and songs that'll have you strumming your air guitars along with our unlikely hero and his talented troupe of mini rockstars.

With a book by Julian Fellowes and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, something really special has been put together here, reviving the spirit of the original film which translates perfectly to the stage.

Our leading man, Dewey Finn, is a lazy, immature slacker, but a thoroughly loveable one who ends up becoming a real force to be reckoned with by the end of the show. Passionate about music, Dewey's got his heart set on winning the local 'Battle of the Bands' competition. But the reality is he's not even in a band anymore, having been kicked out of his most recent one for 'ruining everything all the time'. So he's living rent-free in his best friend, Ned Schneebly's spare room (much to the annoyance of Ned's wife, Patty). When he manages to wrangle his way into a supply teaching role at Horace Green Private School after intercepting a letter intended for Ned, our rocking rollercoaster ride ensues with the children swapping their delicate violin sonatas for thrashing drum solos as every lesson with "Mr Schneebly" is all about one thing - getting them ready to compete in 'The Battle of the Bands'.

Jack Black solifified his status as one of the funniest men in Hollywood in this role and I've read he was very positive about the musical. It's easy to see why, as Jake Sharp embodies his take on Dewey Finn very closely with an incredibly animated performance, bringing seemingly limitless energy to the stage.  The way he bounced around it for the best part of three hours was unreal, and to think he does it night after night, playing guitar too, singing and makes me feel tired just thinking about it!  He drew an incredible round of applause from the audience at the finale, which was most definitely deserved.

I don't want to discredit his performance by saying the younger performers "stole the show", but having all of them perform their own instruments live is definitely something people are excited for when they read about the show before attending, myself included. 42 children tour with the company, so who you catch on the night you attend will vary, but I'm confident that they're all going to shine extremely brightly and blow you away with their talent. They pour their hearts into their roles and I actually think the musical allows you to create a closer bond with them than the film did. When they each get their solo as they sing to their parents "If Only You Would Listen", you would have to have a heart of stone not to feel something! 

The "vocal performance of the night" award has to go to Rebecca Lock as Rosalie Mullins, the uptight school principal who ends up letting her hair down and re-discovering the music of her youth (thanks to Dewey's influence!). Ned Schneebly had me in absolute hysterics, Matthew Rowland played him absolutely perfectly and I found myself looking forward to his scenes and wanting more Ned!

The film's original songs remain, with 14 new musical numbers. It's a funny one because I'd say only two of the songs have stuck with me as catchy ("Stick It To The Man" and "You're In The Band") but at the same time I thoroughly enjoyed the performances. If I had to nitpick, one or two of the songs could have been cut, as it is a rather long show. 

As for the set, it was one of the best uses of the space I've ever seen. The staging changes seamlessly from prestigious school corridors, to a realistic dive bars, messy bedrooms and epic music venues that perfectly suit the thrashing guitars and shouty vocals, making the whole of the Wales Millennium Centre feel like a huge rock gig!

Is the ending predictable? Yes, but who cares. It's a raucous rollercoaster ride getting there and you'll enjoy every minute of it. At its core, School of Rock is about being your authentic self and the power that music has in helping so many of us express that. As expressed by the characters in the show, from a very young age kids feel enormous pressure from society to 'fit in' or 'be cool' amongst classmates. They then feel a need to live up to parents' expectations at home, whether it be getting the highest grades or being pressured into hobbies they have little interest in. The journey the kids go through will be relatable to everyone, no matter what age they are. Perhaps some overbearing parents who attended this show will even be influenced by it and start to soften up and be more tolerant, like the mums and dads in the show!

It's so funny how shows can surprise you. I went to see another show a couple of weeks ago which I'd been looking forward to for two years, and whilst it was very good, it didn't make the impression on me that this one did. If you get a chance to grab tickets, I highly recommend going for it!

Book your tickets for School of Rock at the Wales Millennium Centre, showing until 21st May 2022:

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Choreographer: JoAnn M Hunter
Book: Julian Fellowes


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