For Theatre South Playhouse’s upcoming production, not only do performers need to have acting skills, but many also needed to know how to play a musical instrument to snag their parts.
The community theater is presenting “School of Rock: The Musical,” a fun and lively show featuring 15 children playing a variety of rock instruments live on stage.
“It’s a score that’s full of amazing rock music actually played by our kids,” said Hillary Brook, the theater’s executive director.
The show — based on the movie starring Jack Black — follows Dewey Finn, a failed, wannabe rock star who decides to earn an extra bit of cash by posing as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. There he turns a class of straight–A pupils into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. Next stop: Battle of the Bands.
Brook said she’s excited for this Central Florida premier and the chance to work with a local musician.
“Ronnie Gross is playing the Jack Black role of Dewey Finn,” she said. “He’s local-plucked talent. He performs all over Disney Springs, Tin Roof. He’s a man and his guitar, and he does gig jobs all around town. So, we were really lucky to find him.”
The musical closely follows the movie script — with several bonus Andrew Lloyd Webber songs added to the stage show.
“It’s always a unique experience seeing a large Broadway musical because our space is intimate,” Brook said. “Large-scale productions brought into these intimate settings — and you’re right there in the middle of it. There’s so many beautiful moments with these hardworking, talented kids. It’s both hysterical and heartwarming.”
“School of Rock” is the latest in a series of full productions by Theatre South. In 2019, the theater experienced three weeks of sold-out crowds for “Matilda.” The next big show was supposed to be “Urinetown: The Musical,” but Brook was forced to shut down the theater just before the show hit the stage because of the coronavirus.
“Nunsense” was the organization's first professional performance of 2022, reaching audiences in February.
"Producing great theater with young actors is kind of what we are known for, so what better show to add to our professional season?" Brook said. "Similar to our sold-out run of ‘Matilda’ in the fall 2019 before the pandemic, we want to combine great adult professionals with some outstanding young actors and musicians. After our hit run of ‘Nunsense,’ we are hoping to continue to grow our audiences with the Orlando premiere of ‘School of Rock.’”
Brook is more than ready for showcase this next project.
“’If music be the food of life, play on’ … has been kind of the theme of the show,” she said. “I think it’s the perfect time to do a piece like this. There (are) so many things in the world that are unsettling. And this is just the perfect show. When you listen to music to your childhood — these audiences can be transported out of COVID and the shootings that are going on and transported to their happy place — and that’s why I’ve really fallen in love with it.”
The child actors are not students but professionals, and they successfully act as the storytellers in this production, teaching the adults to “find their spirit for life again,” Brook said.
“When it comes to professional kids, we have a lot of them,” she said. “We have such a large talented pool of young performers; it was the perfect piece to highlight them.”
Brook started Theatre South Orlando in 2009; it became a nonprofit under the new name Theatre South Playhouse in 2016. Today, it serves as a professional theater, academic conservatory and community center for children and adults to learn their craft.
“We are the only local theater in Dr. Phillips, and so many people don’t even know that we’re here and putting on professional theater,” Brook said. “Whether you have a family or you’re an adult, it caters to everybody. We would just really love for the Southwest area to learn about us and embrace us.”