Andrew Lloyd Webber’s unexpected Broadway hit moshes over to the West End
It is the ultimate musical about male privilege, a show about an under-qualified, over-entitled white guy who shambles his way to public adoration by blithely inflicting bankrupt baby boomer values upon a bunch of impressionable people who don’t know any better.
‘School of Rock – The Musical’ is also quite good fun.
I dunno if it’s the state of the world today, the fact I haven’t seen the Jack Black-starring film, the fact that so much has changed – musically and politically – since the film came out in 2003, or simply the knowledge that it’s written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Julian Fellowes, a couple of Tory lords in their late ’60s, but I felt a bit politically uneasy about ‘School of Rock’, which follows schlubby charlatan Dewey (David Fynn) as he masquerades as a teacher and proves a hit by tearing up his sensitive young charges’ syllabus and making them play old person music.
Its big, catchy number is called ‘Stick It to the Man’. Yet there’s something both problematic and ironic about the fact that in Laurence Connor’s production The Man is represented by two women – Florence Andrews’s hard-working, professional headmistress Rosalie and Preeya Kalidas’s Patty, a hard-working, professional wife-to-Dewey’s best friend Ned – while in the blue corner we have… Dewey, a self-absorbed bum who everything turns out brilliantly for. Despite apparently being somewhere in his thirties – so presumably born around 1980 – Dewey exclusively loves classic rock bands, and mocks his tween charges for their love of Taylor Swift (a woman) and Kanye West (a black man).
Am I overreacting? I mean, sure: ‘School of Rock’ is basically harmless. But there is, at the very least, something a bit Luddite about a show so smugly adrift from the present, so determined to posit the caterwauling of a bunch of ’70s bloke rockers as the sum total of musical achievement.
But here’s the thing: the kids are really cute. And really talented. You would have to be an absolute monster to not be charmed and impressed by the little pipsqueaks. There are three child casts, which I’m happy to assume are equally precocious as they pluckily howl and strum their way through Lloyd Webber’s undeniably toe-tappin’ song list.
‘School of Rock’ is a baby boomer fantasy, with an underlying earnestness to its suggestion that if we only listened to successful white men of a certain vintage our happiness would be assured. It is, in a certain light, the musical version of Donald Trump. But with much more likeable children.