Musical Theatre / “School of Rock”, directed by Marty King. At Gungahlin Theatre until October 22. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.
IN presenting the first Canberra performances of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical, “School of Rock”, Dramatic Productions uncovered enough talented young actor/musicians during auditions to be able to mount two casts of principals for the show, leading to a decision to field two casts, labelled “Small” and “Tall”, who perform the show on alternate nights.
The season opened with the “Small” cast, which refers to physical stature rather than age or talent.
“School of Rock” is based on the 2003 movie of the same name, and revolves around the character of Dewey, an out-of-work, would-be rock singer and guitarist, who spends his time fantasising himself as a rock-god. At this performance Dewey was played with unrestrained gusto and irresistible enthusiasm by Zach Raffan. Dewey has been couch-surfing in the apartment of his best friend, Ned, much to the chagrin of Ned’s girlfriend, Patti, who wants Dewey out.
In an effort to raise his back-rent, Dewey passes himself off as a substitute teacher in a prestigious school. After identifying musical talent in his students, Dewey forms a band of fifth-graders in the hope of winning the forthcoming Battle of the Bands contest.
The show is performed on an attractive, versatile setting equipped with lots of unexpected pull-outs and pull-downs efficiently operated by the large cast to represent a variety of locales, with the sound cranked-up to rock-concert level – well, it is a rock musical after all.
Delightful performances abound among the adults in the cast led by Taylor Paliaga as the imposing headmistress, Rosalie Mullins who eventually melts under Dewey’s charm offensive, though not before unexpectedly dashing off a few bars of Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria, thereby confirming the oft-repeated rumour that Lloyd-Webber often seeks inspiration for his songs from classical sources.
Equally impressive are Courtney Hayden as Ned’s over-bearing girlfriend, Patti, Bradley McDowell as Dewey’s best friend Ned, and Giuliana Baggoley as the stitched-up Mrs Sheinkope.
But inevitably it’s the young members of the cast who steal the show with their confident acting and brilliant musicianship. Outstanding among them, 11-year-old Zayn O’Shaughnessy as Zack amazes with his prodigious mastery of the rock-guitar. Anneke Hollier-Smith on keyboards, Zoe Fox on bass guitar and Sujaan Biddle on percussion all provide show-stopping moments.
Hester McDonald as the shy Tomika, captivates with her beautiful voice doing justice to the best song in the show, “If Only You would Listen”, as did Lincoln Newell asserting himself as the budding designer, Billy; Edith Baggoley as the ever-efficient know-all, Summer; and Jacqueline Tatam, quite adorable as Sophie.
Dramatic Productions are on a winner with this excellently produced and performed musical. If the “Tall” cast, led by Max Gambale as Dewey, is anywhere near as captivating as the “Small” cast, and there’s no reason to doubt that they are, then audiences will find it hard to resist the temptation to see both casts to choose their own favourites.
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