(seen at the preview performance on 2nd November 2016)
Finally, a West End “family” musical that will satisfy all ages from 9 upwards,
particularly younger teenage boys who until now were not really addressed by the
likes of “Wicked,” and who would consider themselves too old for anything Disney
This lightly constructed show takes a single premise – a washed-up layabout
musician impersonating his “settled down” teacher friend to take a bunch of kids
from staid classroom to “Battle of the Bands” and stretches it to almost
Character backgrounds are sketched in, most adult roles are not even on stage
most of the time (there must be one heck of a card-school going on in the
dressing rooms), and it is down to the children and imposter teacher, one David
Fynn (Dewey Finn) to carry the show...
... luckily, they pretty much bring it off. At the start of the show, “The
Lord’s Voice” (Andrew Lloyd Webber himself) booms over the auditorium, informing
us that “the first question he is always asked is, ‘do the children actually
play their instruments’ – they do.” What he doesn’t say, and that we discover to
our delight, is that there is something hugely amusing about tiny (and these
kids really are small – the monkey doesn’t hang around kids often, so forgets
just how small) bodies holding adult-sized bass guitars.
The team the monkey saw were fun. Jobe Hart (Billy), Bailey Cassell (Freddy),
Sonny Kirby (James), Lois Jenkins (Katie), Giles Carden (Lawrence), Natasha
Raphael (Marcy), Ben Dawson (Mason), Jacob Swann (Matthew), Amelia Poggenpoel (Shonelle),
Lola Moxom (Sophie), Isabelle Methven (Summer), Amma Ris (Tomika) and Toby Lee
(Zack) do all the above, with Ms Methven taking credit for an amusingly bossy,
and Master Hart for a truthful “outsider,” performances. Perhaps a slight
reservation about how a boy is being branded effeminate for loving fashion, but
it served the plot and the actor handled it with aplomb.
Moving on to the adults, seldom off-stage Finn rocks as he should, and is given
some decent Lloyd Webber tunes to do it with. Even if some musical phases sound
“Whistle Down The Wind,” “The Beautiful Game” and even “Variations,” the songs
themselves – notably “You’re In The Band,” important and moving “If Only You
Would Listen” and anarchic anthem “Stick It to the Man” are delivered with gusto
and reach every generation in the audience, an impressive feat.
Of the other adults, when they get a look in, Rosalie Mullins (Florence Andrews)
turns in a decent “Where Did the Rock Go?” and a nod to the other teachers for
their “Faculty Quadrille” too.
It’s as shallow as a rock star’s promise to a groupie, it has several decent
laughs (one for those who know their theatres, in particular, and some topical
stuff that raises a cheer), and the classroom scenes work brilliantly.
Mick Potter’s sound design is perfect – loud enough to generate atmosphere, but
comfortable enough to sit through an entire show, and likewise Natasha Katz and
Anna Louizos come up with lighting and sets to keep the thing moving – often
literally, using a revolve not seen in the original New York production.
Probably not for the classic musical theatre lover, but certainly one that
should be high on the list to introduce reluctant kids to theatre, and even the
history of popular music in general. For this “lesson 101” should keep the New
London rocking for many years to come.