Sometimes you get an offer you can’t refuse.
When the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation approved The Highwood Theatre’s request to license “The School of Rock,” even though it is still playing on the Great White Way, moving forward was a no-brainer.
“It was a unique opportunity to do a Broadway show,” said Kevin Kearney, the theater’s executive director who is co-directing the show with Dylan Kaufman. “We’re part of a select group of youth theaters and schools who received the licensing.”
But aside from the opportunity, “School of Rock” is also “the perfect show for Highwood,” said Kearney, who saw the musical four times on Broadway and “loved” it.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote the music, and Glenn Slater, who wrote the lyrics, based their show on the smash hit Paramount movie by Mike White.
Both film and musical the story of guitarist Dewey Finn, recently out of a job, who is employed mistakenly as a substitute music teacher in a private school. Dewey forms a rock band among his unsuspecting students and enters them into the local Battle of the Bands.
All doesn’t go smoothly – at first.
“Dewey is not the nicest guy – he got kicked out of a band,” explained Matthew Nicola, Highwood’s artistic director. “And the kids he turns into a band play classical music.”
Many young people – including those in this and other Highwood productions – “grew up with the movie,” said Nicola. It stars Jack Black as the musician and Joan Cusack as an uptight principal.
“School of Rock” fits in with the theme of the theatre’s 2017-2018 season, which is “Off Your Rocker: Redefining the Status Quo.”
“This means more than rock ‘n roll,” said Kearney. “It sends a really good message – to follow your dream. But it’s also fun.”
The production of “School of Rock,” which fills the Winter Musical slot at Highwood, also represents many historic firsts for the theatre, according to Nicola: At 29, it incorporates the biggest cast the theatre has ever had; this is the first time second and third graders are performing alongside older students, and all students in the “band” play their instruments themselves.
All the students are 18 or younger, and, for the first time, the design and tech teams are composed exclusively of students.
The production is also a first for Will Valdes, who plays Dewey Finn.
Although the Albert Einstein High School senior has primarily played in the pit for other Highwood productions, this marks his acting debut in a lead role.
“I was Cookie Monster in ‘Avenue Q,’ but it wasn’t a big part,” Valdes said.
Finn is, to the actor’s mind a bit of a “fool, whacky and passionate about rock n’ roll, who makes a lot of funny motions and yelling, and I’m not goofy at all, except maybe around my friends.”
So, Valdes is learning to be somebody who is very different from himself.
Being the lead also means memorizing many more lines and songs than he ever has. And being the accidental substitute teacher means being surrounded by many younger kids. But Valdes finds the experience delightful. “They’re fun and really talented,” he said.
At Highwood, a nonprofit theatre, students are “involved at all levels,” Kearney said. “Giving students of wide age ranges the opportunity to work together creates an environment of mentorship and shared learning.”
The theatre is billing “School of Rock” as “insane for the entire family.”
The production runs Dec. 8 through Dec.17 at The Highwood Theatre, 914 Silver Spring Avenue, in Silver Spring. Tickets are available at: www.thehighwoodtheare.org/tickets.html. For more information, visit the theater’s website at www.thehighwoodtheatre.org, or call the theatre office at 301-587-0697.