Finding a triple-threat acting/singing/dancing kid to co-star in a Broadway musical? That’s child’s play for Claire Burke, a casting agent with the New York-based Tara Rubin Casting. For “School of Rock,” Burke was further tasked with casting an entire middle-school band, composed of children who possess all those talents — and are bona fide musicians.
‘School of Rock’ When: Nov. 1 – 19 Where: Cadillac Palace, 151 W. Randolph Tickets: $34 – $188 Info: broadwayinchicago.com
Beginning Nov. 1 atthe Cadillac Palace Theatre, the first national tour of “School of Rock” (based on the hit movie starring Jack Black) arrives with a cast of these “quadruple-threats.” The musical follows the (mis)adventures of Dewey, a train wreck wannabe rockstar who winds up teaching at a rigid, ultra-snooty private school.
But while Dewey (2011 Columbia College grad Rob Colletti) is the adult lead in the production, it’s his middle-school co-stars who inevitably steal the show. Finding youngsters who can shred a guitar solo or nail a percussive backbeat involves criss-crossing the country and seeing hundreds of hopefuls.
“It’s harder finding kids who can play instruments and sing, dance and act,” says Burke. “It involves a lot of searching and a lot of outreach.” In all, more than 1,000 youngsters have auditioned for the show, Burke says, starting with a 2015 open call that drew upward of 700 young hopefuls. Since that initial round, Burke has traveled the country holding open calls in major cities that generally bring roughly 100 kids into the casting room. And while there’s plenty of seasoned show kids among them, many have never sung of acted professionally, she says.
“When we start, we just want to hear how they perform on their instruments. We need boys who play guitars, drums and piano; girls who play bass,” Burke says, “If they can play at the level we’re looking for, we can work with them on the rest.”
For 10-year-old bassist Ava Briglia, performing has been a way of life since she can remember. The Pennsylvania native started taking dance lessons at age three. At nine, she was playing the title role in the Broadway production of “Matilda.” She’s plays Summer in “School of Rock,” a bossy, prissy, budding control-freak with no tolerance for those who bend the rules. Briglia didn’t start out with Summer in mind – she auditioned with her eyes on a smaller role.
“We initially saw Ava for [the role of] Katie, the bassist,” says Burke, “But she was so good and so confident, we decided to have her read for Summer. It’s a tricky role because Summer is bossy, but she’s the lead, so you’ve got to like her. Ava was able to pull that off. She brought a nuance to the reading that was unusual.”
“I love Summer’s bossiness,” says Briglia, “She has a hard time with Dewey in the building because Dewey is such a mess. Also, she’s hilarious. She loves following the rules and she really loves making sure everybody else is following the rules. She’s a total perfectionist.”
“School of Rock” is Briglia’s first national tour. She has no qualms about living out of a suitcase for the better part of a year. “I love it because I get to go to all these cool places with my friends,” she says, “And we all become family because we’re basically with each other 24/7. So it’s basically like you get to travel the world with this huge big family.”
“Plus,” she says, “I love this show because it’s showtunes and its rock. I get to do both.”
Burke has a few tips for the young people with hopes of joining Briglia and her castmates down the road. First: Check the website (schoolofrockthemusical.com) for open call announcements. And if you’re nowhere near one? Don’t despair. “A lot of people don’t realize we take audition tapes. If we’re not coming to your city, you can submit a tape. We have two cast members right now who got in that way. And have fun. Always remember to have fun.”
Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.