Q&A: ‘School of Rock: The Musical’ melts faces at DC’s National Theatre

WASHINGTON — Richard Linklater’s Golden Globe nominee “School of Rock” (2003) was arguably Jack Black’s funniest flick before becoming an acclaimed Broadway musical in 2015.

This month, the U.S. national tour hits National Theatre with “School of Rock: The Musical.”

“Halfway through college I first saw ‘School of Rock,’ and it quickly became one of my favorite movies,” actor Merritt David Janes told WTOP. “I loved ‘School of Rock,’ and I particularly loved the ‘Teacher’s Pet’ song at the end of it … So, if you told me back then that I’d be going to the National Theatre, playing that role, getting to play that song and a bunch of other great songs written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, I would’ve told you that you were insane. But here we are!”

The story follows lazy rocker Dewey Finn, who dreams of winning the local Battle of the Bands with his band No Vacancy until he loses his job and band gig all at once. Desperate to pay the rent, he swipes a phone call from his roommate and steals a substitute teaching job at a preppy, private elementary school, Horace Green, ultimately forming a student rock band.

“They give him the direction that he lacks,” Janes said. “Everybody is the missing puzzle piece for each other in that story. The kids are living this rigid educational lifestyle and have pretty intense home lives. He comes in and shows them a whole new world of rock. … They certainly give him a missing puzzle piece (too). … Let me tell you, it ain’t ‘Hamlet.’ I’m running, jumping, screaming, singing all over the place. I don’t even have to go to the gym; I just do the show!”

The Broadway hit was nominated for four Tonys, including Best Musical, losing to “Hamilton.”

“You could say we lost to ‘Hamilton’ but I say we survived the ‘Hamilton’ hurricane,” Janes said. “If you look at every show that was out that year, pretty much all of them closed when ‘Hamilton’ came in. The only ones that survived were ‘School of Rock’ and ‘On Your Feet,’ and the only one left standing to this day is ‘School of Rock.’ … It was a very exciting time to be on Broadway, so I will always tip my hat to them and I don’t look at it as losing to them. I think we have to hear the line from the show: ‘We didn’t come here to win, we came here to rock!'”

Webber wrote 14 new songs to accompany such beloved movie songs as “Teacher’s Pet.”

“This is the perfect combination of what everybody who’s doing a movie musical is trying to do,” Janes said. “We’ve got great songs from the movie in our show, but there’s not too many songs that it’s a regurgitation. Then you’ve got Andrew Lloyd Webber writing a new score, new music and new underscoring. He’s just fantastic at that and he makes it all come together.”

The songs are belted by a mostly child cast. More than 10,000 kids auditioned on Broadway.

“What I’m particularly proud of about this show is that I don’t think there’s any other show out there that’s putting more instruments into kids’ hands,” Janes said. “‘School of Rock’ is a very special show because you have kids doing things on stage that had never been done before on Broadway. There’s been a lot of first-timers to the theaters that we play, a lot of parents bring their kids, and a lot of kids pick up instruments after they see our show.”

Some are even inspired to audition, including Theo Mitchell-Penner who plays Lawrence.

“He came and saw the show, he didn’t even play piano, he told his mom that he wanted to be in ‘School of Rock,’ he learned how to play the piano, he called an agent, he got an audition and now he’s Lawrence!” Janes said. “As Andrew Lloyd Webber would say, ‘It is spreading the empowering message of rock everywhere across North America.'”

For those kids about to rock, we salute you.

Find more details on the National Theatre website. Listen to our full conversation below:

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