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Canberra Today 14°/17° | Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Rock ‘n’ roll school in a class of its own

The “School of Rock” cast with Zach Raffan in the lead role of Dewey Finn. Photo: Janelle McMenamin

FROM “Sunset Boulevard” to “Legally Blonde” and “The Bodyguard”, there’s a long tradition in showbiz of famous cult movies being made into musicals.

Now Dramatic Productions in Gungahlin is taking on one of the most accessible of them in “School of Rock”, which originated in the 2003 film of the same name, where out-of-work Dewey Finn, who fancies himself as a great rockstar, pretends to be a substitute teacher at a school.

The musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Glenn Slater and Julian Fellowes, opened on Broadway in 2015. 

It sounds like a sure-fire hit, but the producers have made life difficult for themselves by double casting – partly to offer roles to talented young kids in the Gungahlin area, but also to make sure that the production doesn’t fall foul of covid – there’ll always been someone else to play the role.

I caught up with director Marty King, who’s been working overtime to rehearse the double cast to ensure that each actor has an equal opportunity to shine. A graduate in straight acting from university in Ballarat, he has a strong track record in Canberra musical theatre, having worked on “Anything Goes”, “Shrek the Musical” and “The Producers”. 

“It’s interesting to see new musicals popping up based on films I grew up with,” he says. 

“Now that I’m older, I see it as a different way of telling the stories for a new generation, in a new context.”

Lloyd Webber fans, he says, will warm to strains familiar from “Jesus Christ Superstar”, adding that it’s well known that the story of a wanna-be rockstar is right up the famous composer’s alley. 

Although “School of Rock” has adult themes, he believes it’s definitely a show the young audiences will connect with, too. 

“Dewey has this unstoppable desire to be a rockstar, often to the detriment of other people, but as the musical progresses, he comes to realise that the idea of stardom isn’t everything – there are other people and other things in life.”

The musical component, obviously, is very important, and under the directorship of Kat Tang, there will be a big sound coming from the pit.

But, King emphasises, music will also be played live on stage by Max Gambale and Zach Raffan, who double as Dewey, and by no fewer than eight children on stage playing instruments, too. These are serious music students who study either at college or with private teachers in Canberra.

King says it’s the very first show for some of them, so learning to play their instruments in front of an audience while playing a character is impressive.

“It’s something to see, it’s something to hear,” he says. 

Enter Zach Raffan, best-known in Canberra as a classical and jazz trumpeter but also, unlike most of his musical peers, an accomplished actor who played the lead in 2015 in “High Fidelity” and the murderer in “Wait Until Dark” in 2017.

Dewey is a dream role for Raffan, who’ll play the part on opening night. 

“It’s all about wanting to be famous and wanting more. I love this character. Oh my god, it’s me,” he says.


The “School of Rock” cast with Max Gambale in the lead role of Dewey Finn. Photo: Janelle McMenamin

Raffan, who started out doing air-drumming in his bedroom to the Rolling Stones before he trained as a classical musician, is definitely sympathetic to the musical style of “School of Rock”.

“I teach rock music in a high school and I often break the rules in order to give my students the best,” he says. 

“I think Dewey is so fantastic… sure, he thinks it’s all about him and that people will go crazy for him, but he genuinely cares about the kids he’s teaching, even though he hates the bureaucracy of the school.”

Raffan has recently been changing from being a trumpeter to a guitarist and it’s something new for the classically trained instrumentalist. 

“I’m trying very hard to turn guitar into my main instrument, a huge step,” he says. “This is my debut performance as an official rock guitarist.”

Admitting that he’s no Jimi Hendrix, Raffan says most of what he plays is rhythm guitar, even though he wishes he could go crazy with the instrument – but he does get to play one solo, and that’s his big moment.

“School of Rock”, Gungahlin Theatre, October 7-22.

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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