With original compositions by the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber, School of Rock follows failed wannabe rock star Dewey Finn, who poses as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school, in turn transforming his class into a group of riff-shredding rock stars. With Australian theatre alumni Brent Hill as the loveable Dewey Finn, Amy Lehpamer as the uptight headmistress Rosalie Mullins, and an ensemble cast of 36 kids from all across Australia as Finn’s rockers-in-training, there’s nothing here that couldn’t make you excited. Class is in session and we’re all ready to rock.
For Amy Lehpamer, School of Rock fuses her experience in more classical musicals like The Sound of Music and High Society, and more irreverent rock musicals, like Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. “The film is terrific,” she says, “It’s one of those films that’s got such universal appeal, which is quite rare.
“It’s in the popular culture ether as a film and the musical takes all the best elements of the film and puts them on stage, so you get the live aspect of watching these kids perform and play instruments.
“It’s pretty special to watch – you’d have to be a pretty hardened heart to not think that’s pretty great.”
As the sometimes rigid and misunderstood headmistress Rosalie Mullins, a role made famous in the film by actress Joan Cusack, Lehpamer has big shoes to fill but feels she understands the character. “In essence, Rosalie is a very relatable figure,” says Lehpamer. “She’s that person at the top that we dismiss as being very work-obsessed, kind of cold and difficult to approach. That’s the basis at the start of the film that she’s almost a bit of a caricature. The pressures, she takes pride in the fact she’s at the top of the tree, but she also wears it heavily.”
You might call Rosalie Mullins incredibly neurotic but she’s also incredibly sure of the decisions she’s making. A character introduced in such a definite way makes Lehpamer’s performance that bit more enjoyable, particularly through her interactions with Dewey Finn. “He unpicks her,” explains Lehpamer. “Not intentionally but he gets to the heart of her struggle and her sense of pressure.”
Atop Lloyd Webber’s compositions, Lephamer feels the music very much advances the story with rock‘n’roll getting into the veins of the children. Working with kids can be unpredictable and with a cast of 36 kids, it’s an education in itself.
“It’s wonderful because you’re watching them grow literally and figuratively. The joy of it is watching how quickly they pick things up, the way they work together.
“The thing we forget as adults is how to learn. We think it’s all determined, that we know what we know and it’s hard to change – kids have that as a given. They’re in that frame that they don’t know a lot and have to learn stuff.
“When you’re working with those kinds of attitudes, it’s sort of infectious. Kids go forward with an open heart and an open mind and are unabashedly creative. You get that purity of what kids do well and this show really takes that and dials it up to 11.”
Despite his extensive resume in Australian theatre, Brent Hill is aware he has landed a coveted role. When the decision was made to cast Hill in the role of Dewey Finn, made famous in the film by enigmatic rock star and actor Jack Black, producers hit the jackpot. “The role is a lot,” he says. “The character is full of this youthful energy and Dewey Finn is a big hit – he has to be, he’s a leader of all the demon rascals.”
The challenge of the production is what drives Hill to make the role his own. “The creators really do encourage some free form, a bit of improv. It means the show is alive. If something happens in the moment you can run with it – and because we’re working with kids it can be unpredictable like that.”
In such a demanding role, Hill needs to draw fuel for his fire – and where better than to feed off the energy of School of Rock’s young cast. Kids will be kids, but the addition of rock’n’roll transforms Hill’s younger castmates into even bigger balls of energy – and he absolutely loves it. Hill is learning as much from the kids as he feels they might be learning from him, emulating the role model aspects of his character.
“That’s one of the things I was excited about coming into this from the beginning,” Hills says. “Kids have a high energy and counting on that to fuel Dewey, Dewey is thereby fuelling the kids. They’re fantastic, they’re just fantastic. They’re all rock stars.”
School of Rock isn’t just the story of a loveable goof and his accidental path to realising his dreams of rock stardom, it’s an audible spectacular of modern day rock that is empowering kids and adults through music. “That’s what drew Andrew [Lloyd Webber] to the show,” says Hill. “It is by no means traditional musical theatre,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, the musical purists will still get something out of it hugely, it just so happens this story is about a guy who lives and loves rock music.”