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Comedy, rock n' roll continues this week in STAGES 'School of Rock'

COURTESY PHOTO: STAGES - Dewey, played by Max Nevers, gets his students ready to rock n roll in STAGES production of School of Rock - The Musical.“School of Rock” made its debut a whopping 13 years ago. The 2003 musical comedy featured Jack Black in the role of a man named Dewey, an overly enthusiastic guitarist who gets thrown out of his bar band and finds himself in desperate need of work.

Those who haven’t seen the movie now have a chance to experience it live, courtesy of STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy.

STAGES is opening its seventh season with “School of Rock — The Musical.” The organization was part of a small, select group of theater companies chosen by the production’s licensing agent, Rodgers and Hammerstein of New York, to mount this show — a highly unusual opportunity to receive the rights to perform a show that is still performing on Broadway.

One of the stipulations of the contract was that all performers, including orchestra members, must be under the age of 18, and all music must be live.

“In January, applications were made available, we had to explain how we could fulfill all the obligations set down, and we had to give details about our theater and why we would be a great fit for the show,” said Cindy Wilkins, a STAGES co-founder.

As the story goes, down-on-his-luck wannabe rock star Dewey (Max Nevers) poses as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school to make ends meet. When he discovers his students’ musical talents, he enlists his fifth-graders to form a rock group and conquer the Battle of the Bands. He turns a class of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. While teaching the pint-sized prodigies what it means to truly rock, Dewey falls for the school’s beautiful, but uptight headmistress, Rosalie Mullins (Caitriona Johnston) and helps her rediscover the wild child within.

Due to the musical elements of the show, as well as requirements from Rodgers and Hammerstein, the actors took part in six auditions, Wilkins said.

“The main characters had to be strong vocally, good actors and for the most part play a rock band instrument,” said Wilkins. “All music you see on stage is being played by the actor — there’s no canned music. This is a very demanding show for the lead, Max Nevers, because he’s on stage the entire show, for two-and-a-half hours.”

The plot aligns itself with that of the movie, but the big difference is the music — because it’s a musical, there’s more of it. The live production features a pit rock band, as well as the characters onstage playing instruments live.

Three weeks before opening, play director Luis Ventura and company lost the entire pit band due to the original band director being overcommitted. Joey Aloia from MIR Music quickly stepped in and took over with a brand new set of musicians.

“We were only given five days in the theater prior to dress rehearsal, which meant the entire set had to be built in one day — and then the other four days were rehearsals in the space,” said Wilkins. “Singing with a live band is challenging for the singers because it means everyone has to continually be on tempo, and this is a full-length Broadway show.

“These young actors are expected to have full energy on stage and quick costume changes and quick set changes — it’s extremely challenging.”

The show also stars Alder Wyatt, Katie Rice, Jolee Morris, Rylie Barttell, Landon Wells, Kai Nevers, Kailee Flint, Jules Mason, Alex Hyatt, Tia Green, Anika Hyatt, Bennett Mason, Aubrey McLain, Braden Crosby, Nathaniel Rautenkranz and Claire Johnston.

“School of Rock — The Musical” premiered Nov. 4, but continues through Nov. 20 in the Hillsboro High School auditorium, 3285 S.E. Rood Bridge Road. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.stagesyouth.org, and are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and students.