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SCHOOL OF ROCK, SA (article first published : 2008-07-8)

In a departure from the run of shows of recent years of the Unilever Young Performers Project, when recognised stage musicals such as Grease, Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof, The Wiz and Annie have been mounted to great success and acclaim by both the public and the press, the 2008 production, the eighth in the series, has taken the idea from the cult 2003 Jack Black movie "School of Rock", i.e. a rock musician teaching at a school and molding the pupils into a rock band.

However, School of Rock, SA has a new, original story written by Themi Venturas who also directed the show. He has adapted the story into a stage musical for which he has chosen most appropriate classic and alternative rock music and some beautiful ballads.

School of Rock, SA may be performed by youngsters still at school but the wealth of talent is amazing. They have been well rehearsed and moulded into a very professional highly entertaining show. The setting of this new version is a very prestigious South African school, Hilltop High, which is in dire straits as the music teacher has been involved in an accident and a replacement has to be obtained most urgently (Under Pressure by Queen) which is where Barry Thomson, as Barney Jones, the substitute teacher, comes in. He has his own idea of how and what music should be taught (Barney's Beethoven Lesson) and under his aegis, the learners are formed into a school band to perform at the Splashy Fen Music Festival over the Easter weekend, but under supreme secrecy.

The enthusiastic learners take to the project and have to raise the funds to pay for their transport to the festival. This is portrayed in a fun scene where some of the jobs they undertake are to do homework for others - at a price, car washing and cake sales.

Not all goes smoothly, of course, and that's part of the story. However, the main aspect, and attraction, of the show is the music. Songs have been chosen to fit the story line, such as the opening song where parents are taking their children to school On Your First Day followed by Gaudeamus Igitur at the school assembly. Other hits featured are Roll over Beethoven (Chuck Berry), Schools Out for Summer (Alice Cooper), Beautiful (Christina Aguilera), and I Believe, I Can (Yolanda Adams) amongst others, to the first act finale, Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now (Jefferson Starship).

The fun continues in Act 2 with Rocking the Suburbs (Ben Folds), We Can Work It Out (The Beatles), Play that Funky Music (Wild Cherry), The Whole of the Moon (The Waterboys) andImmigrant Song (Led Zeppelin) to the Splashy Fen medley which ends with a rousing Long Road to the Top (AC/DC) finale which left the audience begging for more.

Great use is made of back projection on the three leaves of the set to depict the various scene changes, such as the school building, the beautiful school grounds and a classroom. Sets are very professionally rolled on although this could have been speeded up at times. With this and the many lighting changes and cues, this show is technically much more advanced and complicated than the previous musicals in this series. May they continue to go from strength to strength.

The members of the School of Rock Band are Daniel Basckin (Lead Guitar 1), Kim van Elden and James Verkerk (Keyboards 1 and 2, respectively), James Jakobi (Drums) and Rick de Kock (Bass) and their young ages belie their talent. The premise of the Unilever Young Performers Projects is to provide an opportunity for talented high school learners to experience the world of professional theatre by performing in a musical show that is totally professional. To this end, each production has a professional and the "token professional" this year is the renowned guitarist Barry Thomson as Lead Guitar 2 in the school band. To his credit, and that of the rest of the band, they are not overshadowed by him and fit in extremely well to his high standard.

The other "adult" of the cast, Chelsea Hill as Mz Alice Steen, the School Principal, is well cast and fills the role well as do the other small roles of the parents of several of the children. The stars of the production, however, are the scholars who fill their roles superbly with much enthusiasm and ability. The diction of a couple of them needs improvement as the dialogue was not always clear. However, the main purpose of the show was the music, both vocal and instrumental, and these were superb. Full credit to Dawn Selby & Barry Thomson for Musical Direction and Backing Tracks and Charon Williams-Ross for Vocal Direction. The choreography, by Daisy Spencer, was beautifully conceived and excellently and exuberantly executed. The large cast of close to 40 actors is well disciplined and they work very well together, a great compliment to the director, Themi Venturas. His professionalism and hard work have paid off in ever way.

School of Rock, SA runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from July 4 to 20 Thursdays to Saturdays at 19h30 (Sundays at 18h00) with additional shows on July 6 at 14h00, July 8 at 19h30, July 9 at 14h00 and 19h30, and July 12 and 19 at 14h00. Tickets R75 (R50 scholars and pensioners) booked at Computicket or call 083 915 8000. – Maurice Kort




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