Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash hit rock musical, “School of Rock” has made its way to Melbourne and is now playing at Her Majesty's Theatre. Based on the hit film, this Australian premiere production features Brent Hill as music teacher and wannabe rock star Dewey Finn, and Amy Lehpamer as headmistress Rosalie Mullins, alongside a stunning cast of child actors. We spoke to Brent about his role, the challenges of playing Dewey and rocking out on stage.
For those that haven’t seen the brilliant film “School of Rock,” can you tell us a bit about the story of the musical and your character of Dewey.
“School of Rock” follows Dewey Finn, a passionate wannabe rock-star without much anchor in reality about his dreams. He’s kicked out of his band and finds himself facing eviction from his best-friend Ned Schneebly’s flat if he doesn’t pay the much-overdue rent. He intercepts a phone call meant for Ned, and in pursuit of rent money, suddenly Dewey is posing as a substitute teacher under his friend’s name at the upper-class Horace Green Prep School.
Dewey doesn’t connect with the over-disciplined kids until he realises that they can play music (!) and suddenly his dream of winning the Battle of the Bands is reforged anew. So in taking advantage of the situation, he realises he CAN teach them something, and that is about rock, music, passion, self-belief and sticking it to the man. And, of course, along the way they teach him a few lessons too. Ultimately, it’s about empowerment through music.
Were you familiar with the film before you took on the role?
Definitely. I had seen the film probably about ten times before hearing about the musical. The film is just brilliant, so pleasing to watch, like a rock-themed “Sound of Music.”
What’s the biggest challenge with the role of Dewey?
Stamina. And energy output. It’s a lot. Rehearsals were a lot about building stamina. Dewey rarely leaves the stage, particularly in the first half. Add into this that you’re high belt rock singing, jumping off desks, slinging guitars around kids, all while wearing various woollen sweater vests. So you gotta make sure you’re hydrated with enough fuel-to-go. It’s a balance, still figuring it out as we go. Fortunately, they’ve figured out the high workload from previous productions and usually have an alternate Dewey who does a few shows a week. We have Joe Kosky; the man is a musical theatre demon and I am epically grateful for his attitude, humour and hard work.
Singing the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber must be a dream come true. Do you have a favourite moment or song from the show?
As a kid who grew up wearing out “Cats” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” on VHS—YES IT IS! “You’re in the Band” is particularly awesome. It’s the spark of the whole story scheme, the kids get to rock out, and the song is rad. Getting to watch Amy Lehpamer as Principal Mullins smash it out in “Where Did the Rock Go?” is also a primo highlight. But definitely, the Battle of the Bands contest at the end. Rocking out as a band, an actual band, LIVE.
How have the shows been so far? What has been the audience reaction?
Fantastic. The auditorium energy is just electric overflow—totally the right vibe for this show. And even if we don’t start there, we definitely end there. I love that this show ends in a rock concert, it’s so appropriate. And it also means we all leave feelin’ damn good. There’s some kind of chemical reaction of joy when you see kids (let alone anyone) pick up an instrument and play it exceedingly well. So the reaction has been fantastic, Melbourne knows how to rock.
What is it like working with such a huge child cast?
It’s been brilliant. Before rehearsals began, I saw the cast sheet and you see those 36 kids and, of course, it’s a little daunting, but getting to know and work with them has been wonderful. They’re all excellent; super talented, warm, friendly, and totally professional. They’re the best.
In between your performances, is there anything you are looking forward to seeing/doing here in Melbourne in January 2018?
Yes, I can’t wait to FINALLY see “Calamity Jane”. I’ve heard nothing but excellent things. Peter Carroll told me it’s “what theatre should be.” Big words, but it’s Virginia Gay, so I don’t doubt it.
Also, the new “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!” John Tiffany also directed Amy and I in “Once” a few years ago, so we’re looking forward to seeing him again and the new work. Plus seeing Madeleine Jones and Paula Arundell.