‘School of Rock’ was youthful.
As a celebration of rock music, ‘School of Rock’ presents the perfect opportunity to showcase the instrumental talents of young local performers. Toowoomba Choral Society have stitched together a group of exceptional young people for their production.
‘School of Rock’ was originally a comedy film starring Jack Black, and was later adapted for Broadway with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Julian Fellowes. It follows a young rock-music fanatic who fraudulently takes a teaching contract and neglects the children’s education in favour of starting a band.
While the intention of the story arc is to showcase the learning-through-play method, and highlight the growth in confidence of the students involved, this doesn’t come across as clearly in the stage version. Moreover, the premise of the piece hasn’t aged well at all, making a mockery of educators; who in the US are some of the lowest paid and most under resourced individuals, and who continue to face school shooting risks and increasingly poor working conditions.
That being said, Toowoomba Choral Society have worked with the text available. Some beautifully designed and executed set pieces, by Madeleine Barlow and Tom Hanson, included several large blackboards, combined desk-chair pieces and a multi-leveled stage that created both depth and layers for scene work.
Direction by Chris Thomson flowed most effortlessly, utilising the entirety of the set and avoiding an overuse of the front and centre. Choreography by Jackson Poole included some signature rock moves, and negotiated the need for jazz hands and musical sequences fairly well.
Wendy Evans and Nick Williams, who led the music direction, are to be congratulated on supporting the young performers with their individual instruments and in their successful performances.
In this opening show, lead Dewey Finn was played by Brendan Thomas-Ryland. Thomas-Ryland gave an empathetic performance and managed to replicate some of Jack Black’s infamous comedy style.
Jennifer Morrison gave a standout performance as Rosalie Mullins; in particular, the numbers in which she utilised her lower vocal register were extremely satisfying and professional.
Dylan Ashton gave a believable performance as Ned Schneebly, and did well to balance Kate Hudson-James’ energetic rendition of Patty Dimarco.
Of course, the real stars of ‘School of Rock’ are the students. Madeleine Anderson gave a show-stopping performance as Tomika; Eddie Pocknee perfectly captured the flamboyant Billy; Lachie Ferguson and Tammy Will were phenomenal on the guitars as Zack and Katie respectively; and Hannah Pocknee and Rachel Yap were also impressive in their roles as Summer and Lauren.
In this rendition, the other stellar students were Zac Lester as Freddie, Archie Humphries as Mason, Mary Haase as Jane, Ruby Servin as Marcy, Madi Gersekowski as Sophie, Keyarna Williams as Madison and Gabrielle Montefiore as Shonelle.
This production was double cast, a choice that may grant more stage time to a larger group of performers, but at the neglect of much needed or focused rehearsal time. Unfortunately, in this case, additional rehearsal time would have polished off some of the kinks in the production.
Regardless, the audience loved it. Quite a number of standing ovations were given at the end, but it was the constant and audible reactions throughout the piece that reflected how enjoyable the show was for the family and friends present.
Toowoomba Choral Society did well to inject comedy and general fun into their production of ‘School of Rock’. With a lineup of awesome young talent, it will be exciting to see some of these names return to the stage in years to come.
‘School of Rock’ performed until Sunday, 11 September 2022 at Empire Theatre, Toowoomba. For more information visit the Toowoomba Choral Society’s website.