'School of Rock' by NewArts

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Crtiic

"You're in the Band!"

Bethel, CT - NewArts has developed a comprehensive program to help children of Newtown gain confidence, inspiration and skills to rise above even the most difficult of challenges. Their goal is to build a home to facilitate participation in the Arts and an evidence-based character development strategy (ARC), including a performing arts center in Newtown. Previous productions had been presented at Newtown High School, but this year the two summer shows have been moved to the massive Walnut Hill Community Church in nearby Bethel. 

The first musical is the youth production of ‘School of Rock,’ based on the well-known Paramount movie by Mike White. The musical version has a book written by Julian Fellowes (he of ‘Downton Abbey’ fame) with lyrics by Glenn Slater and new music by none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber, plus the original songs from the film. 

Michael Unger returns to Newtown to both direct and produce this perfect piece for young performers. It offers roles for a slew of preteens in the student ensemble and others for teens to play their parents and teachers. Of course, it also has a lot of humor and a mix of Broadway-style numbers and very loud rock pieces to drive the story of Dewey and the kids along. I liked that the book sticks very closely to the film starring Jack Black that somehow never gets old and includes three songs from the original score.

Opening night was delayed, presumably for technical reasons. I appreciated getting an e-mail from the ticket site moving the curtain time thirty minutes, but in truth the curtain was delayed an hour. Supportive family and friends waited patiently in the lobby of the church until they were able to file into the most impressive sanctuary space I have ever experienced, with more than enough comfortable seating and a good-sized stage. It made for a very late night for the youngest members of the audience, but none complained. 

Shawn Allen did an amazing job of starring as the hyper rocker turned substitute teacher Dewey Finn. The role is demanding, as an actor who is in almost every scene and as a fast moving/fast talking wannabe rock star. Mr. Allen charmed the students and the audience at the same time and led the curtain call like no other.

Rachel Rival played the tightly-wound principal of the Horace Green prep school, Miss Mullins. The musical gives her more singing than an homage to Stevie Nicks and Ms. Rival did well with all of it. Kyle Mangold was quite adorable as the roommate Ned Schneebly that Dewey impersonates and Miranda Wakeman (A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream) was suitably pushy and annoying as his girlfriend Patty.

As for the Horace Green fifth grade students, Katie Bisset played the overachieving student, Summer Hathaway, who becomes the band’s manager. Luca Terrili played guitarist Zach Mooneyham and Michael Spanedda was a fabulous Freddy Hamilton, the drummer in the band, Virginia Grabovsky played bassist Katie, James Hunter was keyboardist Lawrence, Sabrina Spraggins did well on her vocals as the quiet but talented singer Tomika. Max Dimeglio was a riot as stylist Billy Sanford. Hannah Loutensock was Marcy and Isabella Correia was Shonelle, both backup singers. 

Madeleine Talluto appeared as Tessie, Avery Siburn was Danielle. Nicole Kolitsas played Sophie and Eliza Roth was Madison, both roadies/backup singers. Eight other young actors made up the student ensemble, while 18 taller ones made up the adult ensemble.

Jacob Shuman played lighting guru Mason Ward, CJ Hoekenga was security student James, Marina Kolitsas played Mrs. Scheinkopf and Jerusha Wright was Battle of the Bands coordinator Jan Sanderson. 

The School of Rock House Band that sat onstage featured Ben Natti and Ben Reilly on the wailing guitars, Liam Reynolds on bass, Eric Svejcar and J. Paul Borque on keyboards and Dante Melucci and Aidan Schmid (as the drummer for the band No Vacancy.) They sounded amazing throughout. Jeffrey Saver served as music director.
The scenery designed by Brian Prather was up to the level of a NewArts production, meaning it was quite amazing in itself. Costume design by Caitlin Brown had the prep school feel until it was sparkled up when the students entered the realm of Mount Rock. Professional lighting was designed by G. Benjamin Swope, with sound design by David Bullard. Emphatic choreography was created by Tara Jeanne Vallee. 

Don't miss this opportunity to support a great cause and treat yourself to an amazing experience. Come watch hundreds of Newtown CT area children perform in Broadway quality performances in their own community. School of Rock continues 8/6 2p & 7p, 8/7 3p
Photo of NewArts 'School of Rock' cast members at 'School of Rock' on Broadway courtesy of Denise Kolitsas

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