Everyone will want to be in the band after seeing “School of Rock” this week at The Saenger Theatre. The beloved 2003 movie has been turned into a musical with new music by Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber – yes, that Andrew Lloyd Webber – and written by “Downton Abbey” creator Julien Fellows. What a random combination, right? I was shocked.
Like the movie, the musical follows rock star-wannabee Dewey Finn as he does whatever it takes to make it to the Battle of the Bands – even pretending to be his substitute teacher roommate and turning an elementary school class at Horace Green into a pint-sized rock band.
Dewey Finn was originally played in the movie by comedian Jack Black, whose physicality and lovable weirdness is a tough act to follow. “School of Rock” the musical’s Dewey Finn Merrit David Janes brings more of a [former SNL cast member] Jason Sudeikis-vibe, but nails the role nonetheless.
The real stars of the show are the amazingly talented child cast. The whole show surrounds Finn and his new Horace Green tiny rock stars – and these kids are definitely rock stars (I’m listing their names at the bottom so SEO and Google pick them up when they all become mega famous). Theater-goers will be in awe of their talent, obvious professionalism and ability to command a stage at such a young age. In addition to their acting and singing ability, Andrew Lloyd Webber comes on before the show and announces that all of the kids playing instruments are actually playing the instruments live. I’m not sure I know adult actors that are that multitalented.
Another standout role is that of Horace Green principle Rosalie Mullins who is played by the very talented Lexi Dorsett Sharp. Before “School of Rock” rolled into the Saenger, we had a chance to chat with Sharp about her role and visit to the Big Easy.
Kelly Massicot: What’s it like to be in a Broadway show that is a well-known movie?
Lexi Dorsett Sharp: It’s awesome! We are doing a production that already has a built-in fan-base! What I love about his production is that it can also stand on its own. So, if you are a fan of the movie, or a fan of Jack Black, or if you know nothing about it, we have a fully realized production you can experience in real time.
KM: Was there pressure that came along with the show because of the movie?
LDS: I’ve done several productions in my touring career that started as a movie – “Young Frankenstein,” “The Addams Family” and “Elf,” to name a few. And while, of course, there might be some idea of what the role is supposed to be because of the famous movie star that played it before, I have found that audiences enjoy identifying the similarities and differences. The creative team encouraged us to use the movie as a jumping off point and make it or own. For me that meant finding ways to add humor to Rosalie. The character I play, Rosalie Mullins, was originated by the hilarious Joan Cusack. So, I work to strike that balance of having ownership over the role and making it my own, while honoring what has come before me.
KM: How is it different than the movie? Or can viewers expect the same thing?
LDS: It has all of the favorite moments from the movie including “Teacher’s Pet” as a grand finale. However, what I love about the musical version is that it dives far more into the characterizations of the children. The children play fully realized characters, and you get to watch how their relationship grows with Dewey Finn and the transformative power of music. The other difference you find in the musical production is the relationship between Dewey Finn and my character, Rosalie Mullins, is more developed. I so enjoy working with our talented Dewey Finn, played in our production by Merritt David Janes. It is awesome to have more of a character arch with Dewey.
KM: What’s the “School of Rock” elevator pitch if you had to sell the show?
LDS: Dewey Finn, a guy down on is luck, is kicked out of his own band No Vacancy. Needing money for rent, he poses as a substitute teacher and his best friend Ned Scheebly, and is hired at an elite school called Horace Green. I play Rosalie, the rigid principal of Horace Green. When Dewey comes into the school, he finds out the students are great musicians. He decides to try to make a band with the students to win prize money at “The battle of the bands.” Hilarity ensues as the students try to hide their band rehearsals and plans from Principal Mullins. However, along the way Dewey Finn is able to bring out the best in these children and even eventually break through the tough exterior of principal Mullins. He rocks Horace Green! If that’s not enough to get you interested, we have 12 kids onstage playing their own rock instruments! These kids are all ages 9-12 and are quadruple threats- singers, actors, dancers and musicians! Watching these preteens rock out is unbelievable!
KM: What’s your favorite song or part of “School of Rock”?
LDS: Performing “Where Did the Rock Go?” is not only a highlight of the show for me but has been a highlight of my career. In Act 2, I get to sing this awesome power ballad written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s still surreal! What an incredible opportunity, and the song has such a relatable message about getting in touch with your inner child. It’s beautifully written, and I absolutely love performing it. I also love watching Dewey (played by Merritt David Janes) and our awesome kids rock out “Teacher’s Pet” at the end of the show. It’s such a great moment from the movie, and they execute it so well. Our show becomes a rock concert! They are throwing guitar picks into the audience. You get a big Broadway musical and a rock concert all in one production!
KM: Have you been to New Orleans? What are you excited to experience in the city?
LDS: I love New Orleans! I grew up visiting New Orleans and even lived in the French Quarter and worked on Canal Street one summer while I was in college. In all my touring I’ve never played New Orleans and I am so looking forward to it. There’s just no other place like it: the people, the food, the appreciation of the arts! I can’t wait to eat all the southern food and spend hours getting lost walking the French Quarter! Let the good times roll!
Visit saengernola.com for tickets and more information.
Look up these amazing child stars:
Natalia Bingham, Sami Bray, Julian Brescia, Grier Burke, Sammy Dell, Bella Fraker, Mystic Insche, Alyssa Emily Marvin, Theo Mitchell-Penner, Jacob Moran, Leanne Parks, Arianna Pereira, Blake Ryan, Jesse Sparks, Cameron Trueblood and Gabriella Uhl.