School of Rock - The Musical Makes Regional Premiere Near Denver | Westword
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School of Rock - The Musical Makes Regional Premiere

"We want to inspire the next generation of performers."
Nerdy students become stars in School of Rock.
Nerdy students become stars in School of Rock. Courtesy of Noah Begley
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In the colorful and artistic corridors of the PACE Center, an infectious rhythm is pulsating, and it's all thanks to the Veritas Productions and Parker Arts collaboration on Andrew Lloyd Webber's School of Rock -The Musical, which makes its regional premiere on Friday, January 19, and runs through February 10.

"This is truly contemporary rock music with a dash of opera thrown in," says director Katie Reid Milazzo. "It is a really fun and musically challenging show, because we just have so many different styles that the kids and adults have to sing, but they also have to play [instruments]. They are learning all kinds of harmonies and playing very complicated rhythms so they can rock out, which has been a fun and exciting challenge."

Based on the hit 2003 film starring Jack Black, this musical extravaganza tells the story of Dewey Finn, a failed rock star turned substitute teacher who transforms a group of prep school prodigies into a roaring rock band. With Lloyd Webber's genius weaving fourteen new songs into the tapestry of the original movie soundtrack, the production promises to be nothing short of electrifying.

Caleb Reed, who leads the cast of School of Rock as the eccentric Finn, shares that he's seen the movie "thirty to fifty times. The first date I ever went on was to see this film in high school, and I remember being blown away. I had it on DVD and would watch it whenever it was on TV. Separate from this musical, I am not an Andrew Lloyd Webber person. I don't love Cats or The Phantom of the Opera; they're just not my vibe. This is my favorite show of his, and that kind of blows people away, but I just have a pretty firm affinity for the musical."
click to enlarge kids with their arms in the air
The production is the musical's regional premiere.
Courtesy of Parker Arts

School of Rock is the first partnership between Parker Arts — the public name for the town's cultural department — and Veritas Productions, the for-profit theater company. Every few years, Parker Arts issues a Request for Proposal (or RFP) seeking partnering production companies or individuals to stage the shows it selects.

"As a government entity, we are using taxpayer money, so we need to make sure that everything is fair and equitable," says Carrie Glassburn, Parker Arts cultural director. "There is a real process; we are not just picking our friends. There were certain requirements that they had to meet that had to do with who they knew in the community, who they'd worked with in the past, their vision and their qualifications. That's how we chose the companies we were working with, and then it’s a separate process to decide which titles we hope to produce."

Parker Arts "family" shows typically take place early in the year, which is one of the reasons the organization chose School of Rock for early 2024 back in August 2022. The proposal was then released in late March 2023 for production companies to bid on, and Veritas Productions was awarded the project in mid-April.

Founded in 2019 by Amy Condon and Nancy Evans Begley, Veritas Productions brings more than fifty years of theatrical experience. "One thing we were looking for was who sold the best of how they could get the community involved," Glassburn admits. "We just really loved how Veritas had a relationship with Pickering [Creative Artists Academy]; the students they work with in their studio still had to audition, but they already had reach into a community of kids who were musicians, which was appealing to us. ... We had experience working with Nancy on our stages, so it made it pretty easy for us to feel reassured. It's their debut production with us, but not the debut for these artists or anyone on the creative team."

"After we were selected, then they told us what the season was, and we got to bid to produce those shows," adds Begley. "When I heard what the fall production was [Murder for Two], I just didn't want to start with a two-person musical. It was wonderful, but I wanted to start with a huge inaugural show, so I asked what the January show was going to be, and they told me it was School of Rock, and I was like, ‘That's our show!’ We're excited that our production at the PACE Center is School of Rock's regional premiere. Nobody else in the state has done it here professionally, so it's exciting to be the first to do it and set the bar in Colorado."

Because the cast includes a large number of young actors, the rehearsal process is a balancing act of education and professionalism. According to Milazzo, this job is about more than just staging a musical; it's about nurturing talent and cultivating a sense of community.
click to enlarge
Katie Reid Milazzo, the show's director, draws on her years of experience working with children as a teacher and on national tours of Annie and South Pacific.
Courtesy of Parker Arts
"I have worked with kids a lot," Milazzo says. "Our music director and our choreographer also have professional and educational backgrounds, so it's been a joy to put the kids' learning as a very high priority, but also within the context of ‘Hey, we want this to be the best professional show that we can have.’ We've been approaching it from an educational standpoint in the sense that we want everyone to feel safe and that their work, time and bodies are valued while we are teaching them how to be in a professional show."

Milazzo also stresses that Reed's eight years of experience working as the head of operations and technical theater teacher at Denver Language School adds depth to his portrayal since he understands the importance of building connections with the young cast. And that's useful, as School of Rock is all about "following the dreams you are passionate about," as Reed puts it, and is a heartwarming, rock-infused reminder that we all have a voice and that it is never too late to find it.

"We hope to leave a legacy of encouraging adults to take up guitars or microphones once more," Begley concludes. "We want to be that spark for kids: You do not have to be this big star to appreciate music, art and creativity. We want to inspire the next generation of performers. As for Veritas, I like to joke, ‘Go big or go home,’ because this show is deceptively massive. So when we execute this well, I want people to want to go work at Parker Arts."

School of Rock - The Musical, Friday, January 19, through Saturday, February 10. PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Avenue, Parker. Get tickets at parkerarts.org.
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