Are you ready to rock? Hit musical School Of Rock comes to Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre next month as part of its first-ever UK tour.

What’s On recently caught up with the show’s associate director, Midlands-born Christopher Key, to find out what audiences can expect...

The highlight of school music lessons for this writer was the communal singing of Beatles songs - and while you can’t beat a bit of the Fab Four, the idea of studying the works of rock behemoths like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and AC/DC would have been incredible.

Not so at Horace Green prep school, the setting for School Of Rock The Musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of hit 2003 movie School Of Rock.

The plot of the show revolves around Dewey Finn, an unfulfilled but passionate guitarist who poses as a substitute teacher and is inspired to form a rock band from the class that has been assigned to him.

As the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre prepares to welcome the show in September, Christopher Key, the production’s associate director, sees the hit musical as a welcome tonic at a time when, all being well, the UK will be adapting to a post-Covid normality.

“It’s a celebration of music,” Christopher told What’s On a couple of days before England faced Italy in the final of Euro 2020, “a real feelgood musical, a great cast, and one of those shows that you can’t help but leave either humming the tunes or knowing that you’ve had a great night at the theatre.”

As a football fan, Stourport-born Christopher has noticed how the return of supporters has boosted morale after almost 18 months of mostly empty stadiums. He’s confident that this enthusiasm will also spread to theatregoers.

“Looking at the Euros, you can see it’s been a relief for a lot of people - that opportunity to celebrate sport again. When, finally, our regions can open fully and people can start seeing the standard of show that they could see in the West End, I think it’s going to be great for everyone.”

While the School Of Rock movie was sprinkled with classic rock anthems, the musical includes 14 tunes by Lloyd Webber (with lyrics by Glenn Slater), as well as original songs from the film. However, Christopher notes that there was a conscious decision to remain faithful to the screen version: “You don’t want to move too far from what people are used to. I think the original creators, Laurence Connor as director, Andrew Lloyd Webber and writer Julian Fellowes - it’s quite a departure for Julian from Downton Abbey to School Of Rock! - were very loyal to the movie. Andrew complemented that story with a number of new songs, because the only real song that you know from the film is Teacher’s Pet, which the band play at the end, and it’s in our show. Andrew’s written a great score for the rest of the show, where he’s really back to his rock roots.”

While Dewey might be the protagonist of the drama, Christopher feels that the young musicians in the cast will leave a lasting impression on audiences: “The joy of the show is that the kids play these instruments live, so when you watch this small boy picking up a guitar that’s almost as big as he is, and then playing it to an extremely high standard, it’s quite remarkable.

“The power of music, and particularly music amongst children, is something that Andrew’s so passionate about; for the arts to be free and readily available within schools and encourage children to pick up an instrument.”

According to Christopher, School Of Rock The Musical appears to have been an inspiration for quite a few youngsters who have sat in the audience: “Since it opened in 2016, we’ve heard about so many children who’ve seen it and picked up an instrument since, and I think some of those children are probably now going to be touring the UK in the show.” 

Following the announcement by the government that theatres would be allowed to reopen without restrictions this summer, Christopher is aware of the Covid-shaped shadow that remains a potential threat: “We won’t be worrying about social distancing when we’re staging the show, but of course off stage we’ll continue to test and social distance as much as possible. We’ve got 48 children in the room who we’ll make sure are not all congregated together, so there’s going to be a logistical operation in place to make sure we are as safe as possible.”

For anyone who’s only aware of School Of Rock on the big screen and needs any persuading to check out the musical adaptation, Christopher has an important message...

“If you love the film, you’re going to love the stage show, because it’s very true to the story, but it adds that extra dimension. It focuses a lot more on the children’s stories - it’s the one bit that we don’t get to see in the movie. What goes on in the kids’ homes? What is it that makes them frustrated? What is it that Dewey Finn needs to get out of them? There’s another layer to this production - it’s the film and more - so I’d encourage anyone to come along and witness it.” 

School Of Rock plays Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Tuesday 21 to Saturday 25 September; Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, Tuesday 19 - Saturday 23 October; The Alexandra, Birmingham, Monday 31 January - Saturday 5 February