Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock is the latest musical hitting the headlines following the announcement of an opening date for the West End version this autumn. Fans already knew the show was heading this way as the UK transfer was confirmed the day after its world premiere on Broadway last December, but now they know the West End production will begin previews at the New London Theatre from 24th October 2016 with the official opening night to follow on 14th November 2016.
Of course, the next thing fans will want to know is who will be in the West End cast?
School of Rock – The Musical has been a big success for Lloyd Webber on Broadway. Adapted from the 2003 film of the same name, it follows the story of a Dewey Finn, a struggling wannabe rock star who discovers the musical talents of a group of young prep school students when he poses as their substitute teacher and forms a rock group with the aim of winning the Battle of the Bands.
Played by Jack Black in the film, it was Broadway actor Alex Brightman who originated the role of Dewey Finn in the musical stage production, starring alongside Broadway and West End leading lady Sierra Boggess as school principal Rosalie Mullins. Brightman in particular has received universal acclaim for his performance in the show, and was recently nominated for best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical for the 2016 Tony Awards. That’s Broadway though. We want to know about the West End, and right now, the real question is which side of the pond will the casting come from?
This is hardly the first time a Broadway show has transferred to the West End, and it also wouldn’t be the first time Broadway performers transfer with it. When The Book of Mormon made its UK premiere back in 2013 for example, it did so with Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner in the lead roles of Elder Price and Elder Cunningham. Both actors had of course previously played their respective roles in the Broadway production and the US National Tour. There’s nothing wrong with this in itself. I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that Creel and Cunningham did a fantastic job leading the production over here, and this exchange of talent is not exactly a one-sided deal in any case. Right now for instance, the West End’s own Cynthia Erivo is blowing the socks off Broadway audiences in The Color Purple and is probably about to win herself a Tony Award for it. Tit-for-tat.
Casting US performers for a UK production does become an issue though when it comes about through a lack of faith in our own performers. Whatsonstage critic Michael Coveney made some ridiculous comments in an article written last year, stating that he couldn’t think of any actor who could possibly play the lead role in the West End production if Brightman did not come over with the show. Thankfully proving that he is in the minority in his opinion, there were plenty of theatregoers and West End performers who were more than happy to give him a multitude of possible casting choices however, with the names of Tim Prottey-Jones and Nathan Amzi popping up rather regularly amongst them.
It was also rather disheartening to hear the show’s own composer talk about how ‘difficult’ it could be to find the amount of kids with enough musical talent needed for the West End production. Andrew Lloyd Webber spoke to The Telegraph in December 2015 about his concerns regarding child casting here in the UK, saying “I have to admit I don’t know what we’re going to find in Britain, whether we will find it to the same degree, I doubt it.” It’s disappointing that he would actually think this, especially following the success of such child cast-heavy musicals as Matilda and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory in the West End. Yes, the kids of School of Rock – The Musical will need to be able to sing, dance and act, in addition to playing their own instruments, but there are some amazing little ready-made stars in the UK and no doubt from here that the West End version will feature a child cast that is every bit as good as those on Broadway.
There is a deep pool of talent in the UK theatre industry, and not only does it offer up a rich catch of easy pickings from its surface, but it also holds undiscovered wonders just waiting for their time to be reeled into the light of day. So why not fish from our own waters? Whether the lead roles in the show go to established names or unknown stars-in-the-making isn’t really the important point here; the crux of the matter is a simple belief in our own talent. Brightman and Boggess would undoubtedly be great if they were to reprise their roles in the West End production, but School of Rock – The Musical has the opportunity to send a really positive message through its casting choices. It remains to be seen whether they will choose to do so…
Written by Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Tuesday 24th May 2016