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School of Rock: The Musical at The Alexandra, Birmingham

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by Andy Coleman (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Birmingham. I like Classic Rock, 70s pop music, football and interviewing celebrities. Follow me on Twitter: @andycoleman9
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The kids wanna rock
It's time for some musical education – so make a date with School of Rock: The Musical at The Alexandra in Birmingham from January 31 till February 5, 2022. Based on the 2003 film, the Olivier Award-winning musical follows wannabe rock star Dewey Finn as he poses as a substitute teacher at the prestigious Horace Green School and transforms a diverse bunch of students into a brilliant rock band. The show features 14 original Andrew Lloyd Webber compositions alongside three musical numbers from the film.

School of Rock The Musical, The Alexandra Birmingham, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jake Sharp, Musical Theatre, Alex Tomkins, Chris Keys


Jake Sharp leads the cast as Dewey Finn, having previously performed the role in the West End. Alex Tomkins will perform in the role at certain performances. They are joined by Rebecca Lock as Rosalie Mullins, Matthew Rowland as Ned Schneebly and Nadia Violet Johnson as Patty Di Marco. The remaining adult cast comprises of Ryan Bearpark, James Bisp, Joanna O'Hare, Samuel Haughton, Tom Hext, Harveen Mann, Richard Morse, Annell Odartey, Amy Oxley, Helena Pipe, Michaela Powell, Richard Vorster and Craig Watson. One of three talented teams of 12 children will perform live alongside Dewey each night.

Jake Sharp says School of Rock is the perfect show for right now. "It's completely joyous. It's inclusive, positive and optimistic, which is what we all need after everything we've been through recently."

School of Rock The Musical, The Alexandra Birmingham, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jake Sharp, Musical Theatre, Alex Tomkins, Chris Keys


With a book by Julian Fellowes, the stage version is very true to the movie.

"It's got the same high-energy spirit and fans will recognise a lot of the lines and plot points," notes Associate Director Chris Keys. "But we go more in-depth into the backstories of the children. You see why they need Dewey Finn in their lives and how it changes them as much as it changes him."

Andrew Lloyd Webber's wife, Madeleine, first discovered the School of Rock film when the couple's three then-young children showed it to her in 2006. She fell in love with what she saw as "a charming, funny, irreverent" story about music empowering kids and adults and convinced Andrew that they should buy the rights to it.

Madeleine wrote to the studio, Paramount Pictures, and they turned her down. But she persisted and six years later got the go-ahead, with Lloyd Webber settling on Fellowes (of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey fame) to write the book because of his skills as a storyteller.

School of Rock The Musical, The Alexandra Birmingham, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jake Sharp, Musical Theatre, Alex Tomkins, Chris Keys


The musical had its world premiere at the Winter Garden Theatre, New York, in 2015 and was an instant hit, returning the composer to the rock roots of his 1970 smash, Jesus Christ Superstar.

"One of the key themes of the show is how much connecting with music and the arts can empower us and can give us the release that sometimes we're missing," Chris says. "The joy that comes from music – you see it on stage and you feel it as an audience member."

Assembling the young cast for the UK and Ireland tour was a lengthy process. Because of COVID restrictions, they were asked to send in video footage, followed by Zoom auditions. When restrictions were lifted there were in-person sessions.

Chris says: "You have to look a bit outside the box for this show. It's not your usual stage school kids. Once you've seen they can play the instruments you have to nurture the other aspects that are required – the singing, the acting and the movement. It throws up all sorts of challenges but at the same time it's so rewarding when you see the children make such huge strides from the first day of rehearsals to opening in the show."

School of Rock The Musical, The Alexandra Birmingham, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jake Sharp, Musical Theatre, Alex Tomkins, Chris Keys


Having joined School of Rock in 2018 as a cover for the leading actor, Jake Sharp went on to alternate the role in the West End and now he's headlining the tour. The actor, whose theatre credits also include Mamma Mia! and Sleepless, is thrilled to be revisiting the character of Dewey Finn, played by Jack Black in the movie.

"He's so playful, so childlike and so driven. Playing him is incredibly freeing. Because of the benchmark that Jack Black set, whatever you do – no matter how silly it is – still fits in with the character."

Jake isn't worried about being in Jack's shadow. "Obviously he's incredible in it but I haven't rewatched the film since getting the job. You have to put a little bit of him in there, otherwise, I think people might be disappointed, but there's never a conscious effort on my part to imitate him. And if people think I'm anything like him that's the biggest compliment ever."

After all the lockdowns and restrictions, he's excited to be back on stage. "To have a break, then come back, gives you a whole new lease of life. The audiences are loving it and it's been the best experience."

School of Rock The Musical, The Alexandra Birmingham, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jake Sharp, Musical Theatre, Alex Tomkins, Chris Keys


Alex Tomkins, who plays Dewey at certain performances, agrees that he's a great character. "I love his childishness and his belligerence, plus how he enjoys the kids' company," says the actor, who was also in the original West End cast. "There's no teacher/student thing. These kids are his friends."

Like Jake, he's not worried about comparisons to Jack Black. "He's the best and as an adult who saw the film before the theatre production, you can't help but be influenced by such an iconic performance. But every actor brings so much of themselves to it too because there's a lot of scope for ad-libbing and improvisation."

With theatre credits including Shakespeare classics, Chess and The Commitments, Alex is thrilled to be on the tour. "I think what people have been missing is the shared experience. You can watch the School of Rock film on Netflix but there's nothing like being in the same room with all those kids playing instruments completely live. It's so joyous."

All production pictures: Paul Coltas.

School of Rock The Musical, The Alexandra Birmingham, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jake Sharp, Musical Theatre, Alex Tomkins, Chris Keys
Venue: The Alexandra, Birmingham
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Why? Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning smash hit on tour
When: January 31 - February 5, 2022
Phone: 0333 009 6690
Where: The Alexandra, Birmingham
Cost: From £13 plus fees
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