It may be the middle of summer, but at Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre, it’s time to go back to school.
Don’t worry – this is definitely one school that won’t make you want to cut class.
From Aug. 5 to 28, “School of Rock” is in session at CCTC/HJT. Dewey Finn’s rock band has given him the boot, and things are looking grim. When Dewey finds a job posing as a substitute teacher at a private elementary school and decides to turn his class into a band, things start to rock so hard, they may even win the Battle of the Bands. With book by Julian Fellowes, music by none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater, “School of Rock” packs a lot of laughs, irresistible tunes, and a whole lot of love for the world of learning.
Director Tristan DiVincenzo is having a great time with his cast of 37, who are so focused, and enjoy one another’s company so much, that working with them is a director’s dream. DiVincenzo said that for audience members who are familiar with the 2003 film “School of Rock” starring Jack Black, the CCTC/HJT production will be familiar, with its own unique and surprising qualities.
“All the music in the movie is in the play, as well as additional music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber,” DiVincenzo said. “I think it’s different in the way that scenes are shorter and more concise. The storytelling is more clear, and it’s less about Dewey and more about the story arc. And it’s a surprise, because it's a comedy but it’s very poignant. It’s not just about the colorful characters; it’s about the connection between student and teacher. Those bonds are very important.”
DiVincenzo recalled the first time he visited CCTC/HJT back in the summer of 1991, in the Harwich Junior Theatre days.
“Jim Byrne, one of my designers on this show, brought me to HJT to see ‘Oliver,’” DiVincenzo said. “It felt like there were 100 kids on the stage. I wanted a large cast for ‘School of Rock,’ because I felt like I wanted to recapture that energy I experienced 31 years ago. It transformed my perspective of what kids could do.”
Actor Michael Ryan plays Dewey Finn in his first performance at CCTC/HJT.
“I was sold when they told me that CCTC/HJT is the place where people go to fall in love with theater,” Ryan said. “The character I am playing has a passion for rock. He believes he can do it, but he is not finding success. He goes into the school, and by chance, as he tries to make his dreams come true, he learns that teaching is also a passion of his. I am a voice teacher and theater teacher in New York City, so it’s spooky the way it really mirrors my life. It’s fantastic getting to work with these kids.”
The most important thing to know about “School of Rock,” Ryan said, is that the real stars of the show are the kids on the stage.
“You may see Jack Black front and center on a movie poster, but the kids are the stars and the ones running this show, 100 percent,” Ryan said. “They inspire me. This may sound corny or cliché, but while we may think we’re going to make a huge impact on the lives of kids, they really don’t know how much they affect you by playing opposite you. They really inspire me to be better every single day.”
Choreographer Suzette Hutchinson said her work in “School of Rock” isn’t really about glitz or flashy dance technique, but more about kids rockin’ out.
“We have an enthusiastic and talented cast of tweens and teens playing the lead kids,” Hutchinson said, “and my job as choreographer was to channel all that energy into some fun dance numbers which portray the kids’ gradual recognition and acceptance of their individuality combined with their excitement about this wacky teacher and rock music. I hope that this show makes folks feel that it’s alright not to take yourself too seriously, to allow yourself to be who you are and to recognize the importance of being heard and appreciated. I also hope it brings a smile to peoples’ faces and leaves them grooving.”
DiVincenzo said the message of the play is very much in line with the mission of CCTC/HJT as a teaching theater, and he is delighted to have the opportunity to bring it to the stage.
“When I first encountered CCTC/HJT 31 years ago, it felt like it was being run by the kids,” DiVincenzo said. “It was so dynamic, like a living version of Pippi Longstocking's house! It’s a place where young people receive training not only in theater, but also for their life. Not just about tap dancing or singing, but about learning to take responsibility and to be part of a larger community. Their voices are respected. This show is a love letter to the arts and education, which is definitely on brand for CCTC/HJT. It's my favorite theater in the whole world.”
“School of Rock”
At Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre
Aug. 5 to 28.
Information and reservations: 508-432-2002, capecodtheatrecompany.org