The kids rock.
As in the 2003 Jack Black movie that inspired it, the child stars of the national tour of “School of Rock” do their own singing and play their own instruments. No lip synching. No air guitar. It’s all them.
For their adult co-stars, that can be an amazing thing to witness each night. And by the time they get halfway through Act I, audiences will see that, too.
Take the song “You’re in the Band,” where the young students of Horace Green School learn that they have indeed made the band.
“It’s so much fun. You’re navigating them around and they’re really starting to rock,” said Gary Trainor, one of two actors who portray Dewey Finn in “School of Rock.” “The audience is starting to realize that these kids are physically playing in front of them, and playing some incredibly intricate rock music for 9- and 10-year-olds.”
Trainor, who also played Dewey on the West End in London, is impressed with his young co-stars.
“The children themselves have such talent and stamina. They do all eight shows. We have 12 on stage and four on standby, and they cover for each other,” Trainor said. “They’re constantly rehearsing. Plus they have school during the day.”
He added with a chuckle, “I’ve worked with less-professional adults in my time.”
The show follows the narrative arc of the Richard Linklater film – wannabe rock god Dewey Finn gets kicked out of his band, steals a substitute teacher gig from his roommate, Ned, and teaches a bunch of prep school kids how to rock ’n’ roll their way into a citywide Battle of the Bands. Where the show differs, Trainor said, is in the addition of new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and more insight into the kids.
“In the movie it’s more of a Jack Black showcase,” Trainor said. “In our show, you get a little bit more backstory into the kids – their parents don’t listen to them and how Dewey Finn pulls them out of themselves and sort of liberates them a little bit.”
It’s always a challenge for actors to step into a role made famous by another actor. For Trainor, that means portraying Dewey not exactly like Jack Black did. “You don’t want to mimic, but you want to get the flavor of things,” he said. “I do do a few things that Jack Black does in the movie. Those things are so recognizable to fans of the movie. … To try and completely mimic him would be to do a disservice to the show you’re trying to portray. Plus you’ll never do as good a job as Jack Black because he’s the guy.”
Trainor shares the role of Dewey with Merritt David Janes. Janes plays Dewey in five shows, and Trainor three. That’s been the standard practice, Trainor said, because the role can be seen as an actor’s Everest – it’s physically and vocally demanding.
“The part demands so much energy,” Trainor said. “To be under-energized or to not have complete vocal power diminishes it.”
There’s a collaborative spirit between the two actors, Trainor said. “Every person who has done it has brought something to it. And we watch each other. If there’s something that he gets a big laugh on, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m stealing that,’ ” Trainor said. “We’re quite nice about borrowing or lending, as it were, out different bits and pieces.”
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