Forget your calculator and notebook and grab your guitars, because the School of Rock is in session!
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2015 smash hit School of Rock has just began performances at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, and is already delighting audiences of all ages.
Based on the 2003 film of the same name, School of Rock follows struggling musician Dewey Finn as he cons his way into substitute teaching. Brent Hill (Vivid White, Little Shop of Horrors) stars as the cheeky yet charismatic Dewey, with Amy Lehpamer (Beautiful, The Sound of Music) playing opposite him as the strict conventionalist and high school principal Rosalie Mullins.
Having worked together previously (most notably Rock of Ages in 2011 and Once in 2014), Amy and Brent have a fabulous chemistry both on and off the stage, but School of Rock is a totally different experience for both. They have taken a children’s cast of over 30 kids under their wings, working alongside them as professionals in this Australian Premiere production. I headed over to Her Maj to chat to the pair last week about everything happening at Horace Green.
How has it been working on a production with a child-heavy cast?
Brent: It’s vastly different to what I’ve done before. On Once we [the cast] were the orchestra, and on this we are the same, but it’s kids. Kids are the orchestra. They’re live every night. And that’s rad, you know. There’s something about being in a band where you listen to each other in a different way. You connect on a different level. It’s just awesome. They’re phenomenal musicians, and that’s the thing, they’re 10 and come in and are like… [vocalises guitar solo] and you’re like “What?! Dude! Come on! Yeah!” How can someone be so good at that age? Some peeps just have it, they just do it. Obviously it takes time, and it’s a skill that you work up. Just getting to work with these kids… they’re so great. They’re very inspiring, to see them do this, they’re like 9 and 10 and they’re incredible. If they can do it, I can do it.
Amy: These kids are all really switched on. The thing about kids that play music is that they’ve got really fantastic ways of habit forming. They’re on top of their schoolwork, they’re clever, and they’re very switched on. That you can see as they develop in leaps and bounds. The best thing about working with kids, any kids I’ve worked with, is that kids are still in that space where they’re willing to learn, willing to make mistakes. They understand that they don’t know everything yet and they have to build off that. I think us adults can learn a lot from that because any rehearsal process requires you to kind of start from scratch and let go of preconceived ideas. Kids just do that so naturally. So watching them adopt all these ideas, even things like never having done an American accent before and how they take to it, is really wonderful to be a part of. It definitely does trickle down and has an affect on the adult cast too.
The role of Rosalie Mullins is so diverse – one moment you’re singing an Aria and the next you’ve got a rock song! How do you preserve your vocal health when singing such different styles in a single show?
Amy: I do all of my singing from a classical base, and then work in the contemporary elements from there. That’s something I’ve been working on for quite a while now, using the same central technique to shift things from either side depending on the extremes required. I love a song written with a good motivation and ‘Where Did The Rock Go?’ has a rock-belt but the emotion is there. The classical stuff is not the be all and end all in this show, it’s just a side of Rosalie that’s not really her true side, so there isn’t so much of an expectation that I am an opera diva on stage. The idea is more to be showing that she’s repressing something that gets revealed in act two rather than showing off something that is another idea of the character.
Had you seen the production before?
Brent: The live show? No, never. I’ve seen the movie about ten times but never the stage show. The thing is that the show I first worked on with Amy was Rock of Ages, and for that the director told me for research to “go away and watch School of Rock for your character”. So that was the first time I saw it, really, 7 years ago.
Do you have a favourite song from the show?
Amy: ‘Where Did The Rock Go?’… I mean, I get to sing that, so that’s one of my favourite songs. I think it’s a very successful pop-rock song. It’s a great number once the band kicks in, it really has its own life and dynamism and is really wonderful to sing. Andrew Lloyd Webber knows his way around rock musicals and does a great job at them.
What has set this show apart from others you’ve done?
Amy: The original source material, the film, is fantastic. I think the central story of it is wonderful. We’ve got the anti-hero, the guy we kind of love but also roll our eyes at, but at his heart he’s passionate. And that passion is a source of creativity for him and he sees an opportunity and seizes it, and the kids benefit from it. You do see that, even though it was for selfish purposes at the start – but he grows, the kids grow, Rosalie grows. I think that we like those stories where we see growth and change… and rock and roll!
Brent: It’s certainly the most demanding role I’ve ever done. I thought I couldn’t top Little Shop Of Horrors (Hayes Theatre Co.) where I had to play both Seymour and Audrey II. That was hectic, every show was a mountain, but we did it and we enjoyed it and it was great. This… it’s on par, but the difference is the kids. The kids bring an energy to it and sing and enjoy it. It makes it easy.
What’s your favourite moment of the show?
Amy: ‘You’re In The Band’ when the kids get given their instruments and are sort of allocated and the band structure is formed… I adore it. It’s such a wonderful and exciting thing to see these kids experience these instruments and play them. And even just the sense of community, you know, not all the kids play instruments but they are part of the band. It is a really great lesson – yes, there are performers onstage, but walk one metre offstage and you have got incredible crew, dressers, props, stage management, wigs, everyone there just working towards it. And it’s kind of wonderful having what’s happening on stage actually happing offstage, and the kids are experiencing that and we’re all reminded of that, there’s not just one element of what we do as performers. We need the team. I love that every kid feels like they are part of that band and they have something to say and express throughout the show.
Brent: ‘You’re In The Band’ is awesome. But favourite moment’s gotta be rocking out at the end [in the finale], playing in the band and having the audience basically being in a rock concert.
School of Rock is playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne until February 2019. Tickets and more information are available at the School of Rock Australia website.