It's not unusual for a musical to have understudies and standbys. But how many have a Tall Cast and a Small Cast?
Dramatic Productions' School of Rock does. Producer Richard Block and director Marty King needed four central kids who were, Block said, "quadruple threats" - able to act, sing, dance AND play particular musical instruments to a high standard.
"It was very difficult - we auditioned over a month on three separate weekends," he said.
They came with eight - aged between 10 and 16 - and decided to put them in two alternating casts, divided by height, each with its own leading man. Max Gambale heads the Talls and Zach Raffan the Smalls.
"It made sense because of COVID and so the two lead men would bond with their particular cast," Block said.
The supporting actors work with both groups.
School of Rock, which premiered in 2015, was based on the 2003 movie starring Jack Black. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Julian Fellowes, it tells the story of Dewey Finn (Gambale/Raffan), who dreams of rock stardom.
Things aren't looking good when he's fired from his job, kicked out of his band, No Vacancy, and threatened with eviction from his apartment.
Pretending to be his roommate, Dewey scams a job as a relief teacher at the rigid Horace Green School. Initially apathetic, when he hears some of the kids playing music he's inspired to form them into a band and its support team and enter the Battle of the Bands.
Raffan is a music teacher himself and has his own Dixieland jazz band, the Zackerbilks. He's also been in musicals and plays so he's eminently suited to the role of Dewey. One of his students, Zoe Fox, auditioned for the show with his encouragement and was successful.
There was, Raff said, a real up side in having two casts. "You don't ever get to see a show you're acting in," he said.
This time, he's had the chance to watch the Tall cast in action on stage as well as in rehearsals.
"I'm a little bit shorter than Max," Raffan said. "He does the role very differently. He takes his time ... I feel like I'm on crack, bigger and louder. During COVID I was so demotivated, it was like a desert of creativity."
With things opening up more recently, "I've loved this, I've been on Cloud Nine".
His teaching experience occasionally comes in handy when working with the young actors.
"For a lot of them it's their first show - they're learning the hard way that you need to be quiet and listen to the director," he said.
Raffan said he was on his own learning curve: his main instrument is the trumpet.
He's been getting some help on guitar from 10-year-old Zayn O'Shaughnessy. "He's been showing me things," he said.
School of Rock is on at Gunghalin College Theatre, various dates from October 7 to October 22, 2022. See: stagecenta.com
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