There’s just something about “School of Rock.” When the Jack Black film came out in 2003, it took the world by storm with its hilarious, heartfelt story and catchy songs. Even now, chances are that if you ask someone if they’ve seen it, they’ll say yes—and if you’re flipping channels with a group of people, everyone will be pleased when it’s put on.
It makes sense, then, that the Broadway world would want to get in on the action while capitalizing on early-2000s nostalgia. In December 2015, the film was adapted into a musical with a score by none other than Andrew Lloyd Weber. It was a hit.
Now, two years later, the show is coming to Baltimore as part of its first U.S. Tour. To get ourselves ready to rock, we chatted with choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter.
Were you a fan of “School of Rock” the movie?
Oh yes, it’s something I will always rewatch. It’s a great vehicle for Jack Black’s physical comedy.
How does the musical differ from the movie?
We had a great base. The movie is so fun, it was more exploring the background of the kids [in the plot] and adding numbers.
What was it like working with so many kids?
Most of the kids we hire for the show have very little theatrical experience. The ones who play instruments have to have that talent [in real life], but besides that, it was important that they felt like real kids, not show-bizzy kids.
I’ve worked with children a lot, especially in Oliver!, and I also do a couple of outreach programs. I don’t treat them much differently than I do adults. I’ve found that when you treat them like they’re mature, they rise to the challenge. There are two things I do differently: I try not to swear as much, and I don’t like to use mirrors. These kids aren’t dancers, per se, but we find it in them. We don’t want them to compare themselves with someone who might look a little better or dance a little better. I don’t have kids and I don’t want them, but I love working with them.
What was the biggest challenge in staging the show?
The youngest kids we hire are nine, and we go as high as 13. Unfortunately, they’re on six-month riders. In our original Broadway production, from the time we did the workshop [to the time of the show], the boy who played Laurence’s voice had started to change. We were afraid we wouldn’t have him for the opening. He was such a good kid, and so talented, but we could only keep him through the holidays.
Another challenge was that it wasn’t the normal process for me. Normally, I get in the room with dancers. These kids weren’t professional dancers, and there are no big dance numbers in the show. So I just wanted to see how they move and play. With young people, their attention and discipline are not the same. We had to keep it fun to keep it going.
What’s your favorite number?
I love “Stick it to the Man,” “If Only You Would Listen,” and “I’m Too Hot for You.”
Anything Baltimore should know?
I think a lot of people think it’s a kids’ show. Young people will enjoy it, but it’s funny and slightly irreverent (but nothing to the point where you wouldn’t want a child to see it). It’s moving, it’s touching, and it’s just so fun to watch these young people play. They’re not just plucking chords. Oh, and there are some funny, funny moments with Dewey. It’s truly entertaining.