StageScan Pick: School of Rock

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock arrived at the New London Theatre to an average 4.3 stars from critics. Libby Purves (TheatreCat) described “a lovely fantasy… a heartfelt plea for freedom, creativity and musicality”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) felt the musical “improved on this vaguely preposterous but resonant fairytale” and saw it land “with an almighty kerrang of confidence”, detecting “the same magic” that made it a Broadway hit.

He found Julian Fellowes’s book “cleaves closely to the celluloid storyline” but with “valuable… fine-tuning” so that it now “powers along at an energetic, adrenal lick”. Henry Hitchings (ES) found it “warmly amusing” and Purves “witty”. While Quentin Letts (Daily Mail) found some scenarios “corny” he enjoyed its “delicious” teasing of “uptight parents”.

Purves, hailing a “fresh British cast” judged David Fynn as Dewey “a find” enjoying an “enchanting evocation of a slobbish enthusiast… abashed and cunning, reckless and feckless and rock ’n roll” so that “Your whole heart, willing or not, goes out to him”. Hitchings, admitting “He may not have an outstanding voice,” praised “irrepressible energy” and Cavendish thought him “terrific… chaotic-charismatic,” adding, “Everyone plays their part to perfection”.

Purves noted that Lloyd-Webber and Glenn Slater’s songs are “entirely new” with some “good musical jokes” and found them “more satisfyingly woven into the developing story” than the “rock standards” used in the film. Cavendish described “an album’s worth… busting with rare freshness and vitality”. Hitchings enjoyed the “knowing cleverness” of Slater’s lyrics and a score, “buoyant and bassy, with moments of guitar-shredding frenzy and a keen ear for pastiche”.

While he thought early scenes “a little flat”, he found Laurence Connor’s production “roars into life the moment the students start to fall under Dewey’s spell”. Cavendish found “What was funny becomes doubly so” and praised “tightly drilled, pencil-sharp choreography”.

Purves described “a rabble of underage whoopers, ten-year-old guitarists and mini rock-gods… the wildest bunch of swirling, stamping, joyful muppets on a London stage since Matilda.” She detected “serious” musical “talent” and found their characterisation “neat and good-humoured”. Hitchings saw the young cast “radiating feisty attitude without appearing obnoxious” and Letts enjoyed “their sheer delight in rocking”.

He found the show “ear-splitting and rib-tickling… terrific fun”. Hitchings described a “fresh and charming… loud and cheeky… big-hearted, family-friendly show” enjoying its “anarchic wildness” and “exuberant silliness”. Purves found it “irresistible, feel-very-good-indeed… light, joyful, touching, youthful and musically inventive… Lovely, altogether,” predicting “a stonking hit”.

Currently booking to 12 Feb 2017, with tickets available from StageScan. We also have tickets for other shows in our StageScan Top Ten, including bittersweet farce Dead Funny, and full-on feelgood fun musicals Half a Sixpence and Showstopper! And we’ve just secured tickets for some exciting new plays including the Park theatre’s new season.

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StageScan Pick: Amadeus

Amadeus at the National Theatre received a 4.3-star average from pro reviewers, with five awarding full marks. Libby Purves (TheatreCat) praised Peter Shaffer’s “extraordinary imagining” in which, Paul Taylor (Independent) explained, “dying Salieri, court composer to Joseph II of Austria, relives through extended flashbacks the story of his envy of Mozart”. Natasha Tripney (The Stage) hailed a “feast of a play”.
Taylor enjoyed Michael Longhurst’s “thrillingly fresh and imaginative revival” and Tripney felt he “captures the glory of Shaffer’s writing, its wit and agility, its intellectual richness, its impishness”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) praised a “note-perfect” production “which fully confirms its classic status”.  Tripney described costumes that “pop with colour” and “gleefully anachronistic” dance scenes, and Purves agreed “the play gets everything it needs for perfection and awe… stupendous”.
She thought Lucian Msamati’s Salieri “the performance of a lifetime (even for him)” as he “seethes, struts, writhes and falls like Satan himself, never loosening his grip on the pain. Or on us.” Cavendish enjoyed “dead-pan straightforwardness and sly bitter joviality”, Tripney found “his anguish… palpable”  and Taylor thought him “superb”.
Tripney found a “suitably huge” performance from Adam Gillen, “grotesque yet compellingly so” and Purves reported “unsettling energy” in a “famously daunting part” before he “draws out the vulnerability… with particular finesse”. Cavendish felt “Less, actually, would be more” but admitted “he wrests sympathy for this gifted misfit” and Taylor found the “sudden glimpses of sensitivity… moving”.
Cavendish found “most striking” the use of live onstage musicians so that “we hear the excerpts of Mozart’s masterpieces in gorgeous splendor” along with “a flow of incidental (and often wryly pointed) accompaniment” to the action. Tripney saw them “brilliantly integrated into the world of the play” and Taylor found “the anti-hero’s conscious awareness of posterity” built on “in ways that brilliantly amplify our sense of what he went through” including musicians forming “a chorus that comments on the action in wheezing anachronistic discords or in clambering mime”. Purves described “one terrifying moment” where they “slide triumphantly downstage towards the sobbing, retching Salieri, their celestial harmonies and glowing brass and varnish nearly running him off the edge.” She though the soloists “marvels”, highlighting Fleur de Bray.
Tripney summed up a production “for all its playful, punkish energy… capable of tenderness and profundity” and hailed a “genuinely celebratory” revival, “both vulgar and divine”. Taylor felt Longhurst “has let the air of today into Amadeus in bravura fashion” declaring it “triumphant”.  Cavendish, who found it “seems faintly to rush by” aired a popular sentiment, the “big sadness” that Shaffer, who died in June, had missed this production, adding, “I feel sure he’d have approved.”  Purves described “one of those landmark, memorable five-star opening nights” concluding “It’s wonderful.”

Runs to 31 Dec 2016, but is now completely sold out, so check the National’s box office for returns or look out for the ‘NT Live’ version at a cinema near you. We do still have tickets for some other revivals of twentieth-century classics, including The Entertainer, The Libertine, The Dresser and Art.