I’m a great fan of the Jack Black movie on which the School of Rock musical is based, and having seen a number of Echo Youth productions now, I’m a great fan of their work too, so this for me was a marriage made in heaven.
Led by the charismatic talents of Chris Davidson in the role of Dewey Finn, this was a hybrid cast which blended the gifts possessed by the next generation of young talent with the stagecraft and experience of the adult performers in their ranks. And what a stunner of a show it turned out to be.
This was a big, technical show ideally suited to a stage far bigger than that of the Maddermarket. However, the company of children and adults alike displayed incredible discipline to keep the show running smoothly in spite of a number of fairly complex scene changes, coupled with the logistical nightmare that is the restrictive wings and backstage area of the Maddermarket stage.
It would be very easy to focus on the talents of the young people that made up the band, although for me, Rain Wernham was the standout with her supreme confidence and energetic execution as bassist Katie. Actually though, all of the ‘students’ received top marks in my eyes for a superbly committed performance, each portraying their roles faithfully to the memorable personalities from the movie. Whether it was Oscar Noble as stereotypical stylist Billy or Isabelle Marrison as bolshy band manager Summer, all of the characters were perfectly pitched which is as much to the credit of Director Charley Nicol as it is to the young performers themselves.
A special mention also to Kate Pantry as Principal Mullins whose gorgeous vocals were a particular highlight in the beautiful ballad Where Did the Rock Go? and in whom the show had a steady presence throughout. Speaking of vocal ability though, what a prodigious talent Echo has on its hands in Maddison Humphreys. She wowed us all with a stunning rendition of Amazing Grace whilst playing the painfully shy Tomika.
Ever the critic, I do have to point out that it wasn’t all perfect. The biggest issue was with the sound, which in a show where the music was everything, was a touch frustrating. The sound failures meant we mostly missed out on bits of dialogue or the odd phrase in a song, but the biggest shame was the final guitar solo performed by the excellent Devon White as Zack Mooneyham in the brilliant title song School of Rock. Devon had been able to showcase his skills throughout, but this solo felt like his big moment and it was a shame we missed it. In any case, his air guitar work sold the solo admirably even if we weren’t able to hear what he’d no doubt worked hard on.
After back-to-back musicals, Echo’s next challenge is taking on Shakespeare in their autumn production of Twelfth Night and I can’t wait to see what they produce. You can keep an eye on their website echoyouththeatre.co.uk for details of their upcoming production, or if you're a young performer yourself, you can get in touch to audition.