By Chloe Boike
RMT’s School of Rock is a delightfully rockin’ production that will have you grooving and head-banging in your seat at the Redcliffe Entertainment Centre. Opening night was filled with an audience eager to attend a performance after the recent COVID-19 lockdown and a cast thrilled to be onstage. This entertaining show – with an awesome score, a stellar cast of both adults and children, and a substitute teacher with a rock dream – makes for a night out that you won’t forget any time soon.
Based on the 2003 film of the same name, School of Rock tells the story of a struggling guitarist, Dewey Finn who has been kicked out of his band ‘No Vacancies’ and must come up with a way to pay his rent. Pretending to be his friend Ned Schneebly, Dewey becomes a substitute teacher at Horace Green and helps a bunch of students learn that there is more to life than studying and gold stars by getting them to forming a kick-ass rock band. Having a rockin’ score composed by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber meant the show was nominated for Best Original Score at the Tony Awards in 2016 as well as several other awards.
The show demonstrated great technical design with the right amount of blending with the vocals and instruments with the music side of things however there were a few mic issues during some scenes where dialogue was lost or a mic was left on backstage. The lighting design by Andrew Detenon provided the appropriate atmosphere for each scene, especially when the children were performing in the Battle of the Bands – the strobe lighting really made it feel like we were watching a rock concert.
There was also a bit of audience participation with the show starting off with Mr Sanderson (Hurren) welcoming the audience as if it were a classroom full of students where he was met with a resounding “Good evening, Mr Sanderson” from the crowd. Near the end of the production there was more audience involvement with chanting the School’s band name. This particular interaction needed to be polished a little as chanting seemed to be cued too soon and it drowned out some of the dialogue. Having audience participation definitely made ticketholders feel like they were part of the production themselves.
Whilst the set design by Jonathan Johns was relatively simple, you are able to easily determine where the scene is taking place and it also allowed more space for the children to dance and rock out. Seeing the stage hands in their all blacks changing sets in the light was a little distracting from time to time and may not have been as conspicuous if they were wearing clothes that match the scene as I have seen other productions do in the past. It was great to see the instrument props appear so realistic until I realised that the instruments were not only real, but the children were actually playing them which made everything even more impressive. The costume department did a wonderful job of capturing everyone’s character within their costume – from prep school teachers and students to dive bar hippies to the School of Rock Band uniforms. It would have been nice to have seen a little more of a gradual transition from the students’ clean cut prep uniforms to the crazy band outfits (maybe the removing of some blazers and/or ties during band practice).
The direction of Madeleine Johns was superb. Every movement that happened onstage appeared so natural and fluid. The choreography of Taylah McLennan and Jasmine Reese was not only wonderful to watch but it could be seen on the children’s faces that they enjoyed performing the choreography – particularly in ‘Stick it to the Man’. Even if the movement was something simple, everything was so polished that it was a joy to watch. The musical direction of Meg Kiddle was close to being on a professional level. The harmonies in the singing sounded exquisite. It would have been nice to hear a just a little more of the harmonies in some of the songs – in particular, in the song ‘School of Rock’.
It would seem that Thomas Armstrong-Robley was born to play the role of Dewey Finn. Armstrong-Robley channelled his inner Jack Black throughout this production and the amount of physical comedy he displayed whilst not tiring himself out was impressive. There was one scene where Dewey spits water in a teaches face after learning about parents night. Although this seemed to be designed to get a laugh from the audience – which it did – there were a lot of comments made by audience members that this action was not very COVID-safe. Armstrong-Robley’s vocals were spectacular throughout the production yet there was still room for improvement with the diction of certain lines as sometimes the words got lost when he seemed to focus on hitting certain notes. Georgia Burnett brought sensational vocals to the role of Rosalie Mullins. Every note in ‘Where Did The Rock Go?’ was perfectly in pitch and Burnett displayed such great emotion during this number. Dominic Bradley and Melanie Fuller had wonderful chemistry as Ned Schneebly and Patty Di Marco. Dewey’s band members Zack (Jake Murdoch), Lawrence (Rohan Fenwick), Freddy (Cael Armitage) and Katie (Zara Kan) really brought the ‘rock’ to the School of Rock. Rachel Noskoff brought the right amount of sass and leadership to the role of Summer and display an amazing vocal range in ‘Time to Play’. The audience were blown away with the vocals of Kayla Pehi as Tomika. The audience burst into applause and cheers after hearing the shy new girl perform ‘Amazing Grace’. One of the absolute highlights of the show was the youngest cast member, Jaden Armitage. His acting and reactions in background scenes were on point and his dancing so full out that you couldn’t help but watch him with a smile on your face. All the children in the cast worked so cohesively and were always a pleasure to watch – one scene in particular that caused a lot of laughs was when the children were sneaking out of the school with Dewey.
Overall, this production had so many highlights that naming them all would take too long. For a community production, it has certainly raised the bar on what can be achieved, even during a pandemic.
RMT’s School of Rock is performing until 18th July so make sure that you get your tickets before it is too late. Once you see it, you will be pledging allegiance to the band!
Tickets are on sale now through https://www.redcliffeentertainmentcentre.com.au/Events/School-of-Rock