Bristol Theatre Reviews

Review: High School Never Ends Alma Tavern Theatre

High School Never Ends is a nostalgia driven jukebox musical based on songs by Bowling for Soup.

The American rock band fits comfortably amongst the turn of the century skate punk, ska punk moment, which frequently featured narrative driven songs from a male perspective. These songs surprisingly lend themselves perfectly to musical theatre whilst retaining their rock edge.

Despite being in the Alma Tavern Theatre, this is a show that punches well above its weight. It rivals most West End musicals with its well-written book. It also benefits from a strong artistic vision by writer Owen B Lewis alongside direction by both Lewis and George Harold Millman.

Having sat through many hours of jukebox musicals over the years, High School Never Ends has one of the strongest narratives. It emotionally pitches alongside Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – feel good with minor adversity and strong family themes – leaving the audience feeling cheered and entertained.

The wit and nostalgia factor on a par with The Wedding Singer.

High School Never Ends has clearly been created by someone who not only loves Bowling for Soup, but also musical theatre. It shows a clear understanding of the form, blending the two perfectly to create a really special show.

The show perfectly nails the vibe of 80’s high school, featuring the recognisable characters from all the American movies we love.

Emily (Emma Giles) and Jaret (Harrison Waterhouse) were high school sweethearts. Both now single and in their thirties, they are unfulfilled in their lives and remember each other as the one that got away.

Emily works in an office, Jaret with his mechanic father by day and singing in a band by night. Both pushed by their respective group of friends, the pair hold out hope they will have the opportunity to reconnect at a high school reunion.

The storyline flips between current day and events taking place in the 80s which have led up to Emily and Jaret’s split. Backed by a fabulous ensemble of mates and friends, it’s a bit like watching the close-knit friendship of Derry Girls with that group of male friends you’d find drinking in probably most alternative venues across the 80s and 90s.

It’s an ambitious piece of work in the Alma Tavern Theatre. With a cast of ten, it has to be one of biggest shows the theatre has hosted. Yet careful direction and choreography means it never feels crowded and the ensemble of supporting actors coming together is a show strength.

Big group numbers – High School Never Ends, Star Song, Bitch Song – are show highlights. The musical within a musical device is also a clever one, providing plenty of opportunities for supporting actors to flex comedy muscles.

Quieter moments are also strong, particularly 11 o’clock song Turbulence. This gives Emma Giles her moment to move from a show packed with perfect comic acting to show a more serious moment.

The cast is brilliant. There are so many of them and they all work well together making it feel like you’re watching a group of old friends on stage reliving their youth.

You can see how the show in its current form could transition easily to commercial theatre with a big West End budget. The elements are all there. Although selfishly it’s nice to see it unspoilt by mainstream producers.

The audience clearly featured heavily on the side of Bowling For Soup fans. You really don’t need to be a fan of the band to appreciate the show because the songs can stand by themselves. But any opportunity theatre opens itself up for improving diversity amongst audiences is a good thing.

High School Never Ends The Musical, is a really cheering piece of musical theatre. It’s created with a lot of love, a strong vision and performed by a brilliant cast who made this a fabulous bit of Friday night theatre.

The show will be on at the Alma Tavern until Saturday 25 March 2023

More information or to book:

Photos: Manuel Musiu

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