The renovated Grand Opera has been full of musical adaptations of touring films since its reopening. Some benefit – or even require – knowledge and appreciation of the original film. But this week’s treat functions as a stand-alone piece: the traveling production of Rock school is probably the best work of its kind this season.
Dewey Finn was kicked out of his group. He goes to the house of an old friend Ned Schneebly and intercepts a phone call offering Ned a substitute teaching job in a rarefied preparatory school. And so to pay the rent, Dewey becomes Ned, the tallest kid in the class, a total misfit until he discovers the musical talent that surrounds him. And so begins a rocky journey to prove their youthful genius in a local group competition.
There are so many reasons to love Rock school.
The script for Jullian Fellowes’ comedy is strong, and the performance on the back of Laurence Connor’s direction does not disappoint. The plot has moments of danger, but there is no attempt – and no need – to make them painful or too serious. It’s good light entertainment.
Dewey / Ned is overwhelmed and childish. But he has a passion to share and an adorable contempt for authority. From his first moments on stage, Jake Sharp filled the boots of the larger-than-life character. You can see how the young cast feed off their energy.
Rebecca Lock’s incredible voice injects power and presence into school principal Rosalie Mullans, along with the delightful gradual ending of her tense boss character into a more playful figure as the show draws to a close. hoarse.
The choreography is remarkably precise, with 12 kids setting the standard early on by slamming their desks and walking at the right time. Their first music scene shows their classical talent, but it’s when they make rock instruments their own that 11-13 year olds really amaze. When they play on stage, the audience hears the children, not the musicians in the pit. And they are good.
Among the first highlights was Tomika’s timid interpretation of amazing Grace and Rosalie’s journey of self-discovery in the bar with Dewey. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music gives melodies and arrangements an additional element of humility.
But for me, what does Rock school a great show is the wave of emotion that accompanies the resumption of If only you would listen at the turn of the second act. As the children plead with the distraught Dewey, seeing past the deception that bothers adults so much, the sense of redemption and acceptance is powerful. So many musical adaptations fail to create connections on stage that transcend the fictional story and capture audience members in the moment. Having a dozen young people on stage certainly helps pull those chords, but it’s the quality of the connections they make that seals the deal.
The set has its own choreography, sliding on rails, twisted panels, a revolving stage, sofas and beds that zoom in from the depths of the backstage. Additional lighting beams emerge dramatically for the finale. It’s a visual treat. And a huge range of sounds and additional subs on the floor and suspended from the ceiling to amplify the circles ensure the audience hears every beat.
Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, the stage version of Rock school logic. From start to finish, it’s a lesson in how to produce great musical theater. Rock schoolis executed in the Grand Opera House, Belfast continues until Saturday 13 November.
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