‘School of Rock’ was instrumental.
We all need to start somewhere. Every great motorbike rider had training wheels at one point. Every great author had to learn to read and write. And every great musician started by picking up an instrument and playing a note. We all need to start somewhere – it’s part of the learning experience. That’s the lesson Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s ‘School of Rock’ teaches its audiences, students… and Dewey Finn.
Taking centre stage at the Redcliffe Entertainment Centre, ‘School of Rock’ is a rambunctious story of music, passion, and self-discovery. With the turbulence of Covid-19 lockdowns and mask restrictions still hanging in the air, audiences are set to enjoy this brief theatrical escape as their own way of “sticking it to the man” (i.e., cancelled plans due to Covid).
Based upon the Jack Black-led 2003 comedy film of the same name, ‘School of Rock’ tells the story of hapless rocker Dewey Finn who has dreams of musical grandeur. In a quest to pay his rent, Finn pretends to be his substitute teacher housemate Ned Schneebly and begins relieving at Horace Green Prep School. While he and his students start off on the back foot, they soon develop a mutual love and respect for each other through their shared desire to perform at the local Battle of the Bands competition.
The Broadway production premiered in December 2015 after being in development for a year. Its West End counterpart premiered the following November. The musical would go on to be nominated for four Tony awards and win a Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The show proved to be popular with audiences resulting in national tours throughout the United States, the UK and Ireland, and Australia (where Brent Hill would go on to win a Helpmann Award for his performance of Dewey in 2019). With its book written by Julian Fellowes, lyrics by Glenn Slater, and music by the great Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, ‘School of Rock’ marries the genres of pop-rock and musical theatre expertly.
Madeleine Johns, president of Redcliffe Musical Theatre and principal of ROAR Academy, assumes the role of director for ‘School of Rock’ with precision and consideration. Johns, a veteran of the Moreton Bay performing arts scene, showcases a strong affinity for youth theatre and an expert skill for getting the best out of her young performers. Johns’ vision is assisted by excellent choreographic collaboration with Taylah McLennan and Jasmine Reese. McLennan and Reese demonstrate a keen understanding of how children move and behave, honing their choreography into allowing each child to have fun and shine throughout the performance. Particular highlights are the synchronised backup dancing throughout ‘In the End of Time’ and ‘School of Rock’ (though special mention must go to the students’ hilarious “stick-to-the-man-itis” poses).
Keeping the set design and lighting relatively simple added an element of nuance to the at times bombastic story. Stage Designer Jonathan Johns, Stage Manager Christina Meredith, Production Manager Angela Arkinstall, Technical Manager Jonathan Moss and Lighting Designer Andrew Detenon each illustrate a knack for making minimal staging feel grand. The use of fabricated metal stands during the ‘No Vacancy’ and ‘School of Rock’ performances elicited a stadium feel while still staying in the confines of the Redcliffe Entertainment Centre’s stage. Likewise, Detenon’s illumination of Finn’s ‘In the End of Time’ improvisation was well coordinated.
In a story that values music so heavily, it is not surprising that tremendous effort had been placed into its orchestration. While the occasional missed musical cue or microphone interference did occur, the overall quality of the musical production was premier. Band Sound Engineer Andrew Hazzard and Instrument Coach Tyson Clancy-Jones orchestrated an aptitude for high energy rock music, providing a jovial soundtrack for each performance. Like the choreography, Meg Kiddle’s vocal coaching provided the performer’s deliberate control and near-pitch perfection (particularly the production’s youngest cast members). Hazzard and Kiddle understand that having fun is at the heart of ‘School of Rock’ – this truly resonated throughout the show’s entirety.
‘School of Rock’ boasts a stellar cast of performers ranging from young to young at heart. Thomas Armstrong-Robley centres the production with his effervescent Dewey Finn. Armstrong-Robley channels his inner child perfectly throughout, affording Finn the boyish innocence his role is known for. This quality resonates throughout the show, most notably on occasions when Armstrong-Robley ad libs, bringing an extra layer of cheeky charm to the loveable loafer.
Armstrong-Robley is similarly matched by Georgia Burnett’s subtle elegance as Principal Rosalie Mullins. Burnett provides Mullins with an air of nuance, making a strong counterbalance to Armstrong-Robley. Burnett’s sweet, solemn rendition of ‘Where Did the Rock Go?’ reverberates a sense of longing for freedom from responsibility. This, paired with the excellent staging of the “last drinks” at the closing dive bar, make ‘Where Did the Rock Go?’ a true highlight in RMT’s production.
But, as with any school, it is the students that make the show what it is. With an ensemble of around 16 children, it is impressive that each actor has a moment to shine. Cael Armitage’s Freddy and Rachael Noskoff’s Summer are comedic highlights, with the former’s talent at the drums a particularly impressive feat. Kayla Pehi’s portrayal of the reserved Tomika showcases her versatility as an actor and singer. ‘School of Rock’ boasts a highly talented ensemble cast of kids, with Charlotte Rubendra, Ruby Hunt, and Jaden Armitage (the youngest cast member, making his musical theatre debut) offering some of the best comedic actions and timing of the entire show.
Under the watchful eye of Johns, ‘School of Rock’ is a fun-filled musical escape for the entire family. Every member of the cast and production team demonstrates that even with the occasional technical or sound glitch, there is an exciting learning experience to be had. These little rockers prove just how fun making music can be. Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s ‘School of Rock’ is a jammin’ production sure to get heads banging and cheers roaring. You’ll come for the music, but you’ll stay for the education. Rock on!
‘School of Rock’ performs until Sunday, 18 July 2021 at the Redcliffe Entertainment Centre. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s website.
Photography by BEAK Photographics.