Fourteen-year-old Oakland Anderson had small roles in a couple of plays at his former grade school.
Ten-year-old Vivian Rase has had some larger roles in shows at The Rose Theater, including a turn as Gretl in the recent production of “The Sound of Music.”
And neither one worries about stage fright as they tackle big roles in “School of Rock,” the Broadway musical that opens Friday at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
That’s because the folks at the theater have their backs.
“I don’t get stage fright when I am onstage with other people,” said Vivian, who attends Elmwood-Murdock Elementary School. “(In shows) you make new friends and you guys become family.”
Playhouse Artistic Director Stephen Santa, who is directing “School of Rock,” said he has been impressed with how cohesive the cast became in a short time and how well the kids mixed with the older actors.
“The adults are just kind of blown away by the kids’ talents,” he said. “It has been fun to see veterans uplifting newbies, from vocal projecting to (teaching) stage right or stage left.”
The musical is based on the movie starring Jack Black as Dewey Finn, a middle-aged, out-of-work rocker who poses as a substitute teacher at a fancy prep school. He searches out musical talent among his students, and forms a fifth-grade rock group to compete in a battle of the bands. Thomas Gjere plays Dewey at the Playhouse.
The Playhouse production has a cast of about 30 people, and about half of them are kids.
Oakland, an eighth grader at Lewis and Clark Middle School, plays Zack, a guitar prodigy who is the son of an uptight and aloof businessman who has no time for his children.
He is one of the characters who play their instruments live onstage, and, as a member of four bands in real life, he’s well prepared. The Playhouse worked with the Omaha Conservatory of Music to cast the play, and Oakland attended a workshop for potential “School of Rock” performers.
His nerves did show up at one point, but he has worked through them and is comfortable onstage.
“I got really nervous (at the workshop) because some kids were better at guitar,” he said. “But then I grinded really, really hard the next couple of weeks and upped my guitar game (for the auditions).”
Even so, he said, winning the main role of Zack never occurred to him.
“He’s a charismatic young man,” Santa said.
He’s also a busy one: In addition to the show, which rehearses six nights a week, he’s juggling his bands, soccer, skateboarding, video games and school work. He said he wants to be in a big show again someday, but doesn’t want another large role while he’s in school.
Vivian plays Summer, the high-achieving band manager who intensely dislikes Dewey at first. She says her character is “Miss Perfect,” the student who gets the most gold stars.
She was unfamiliar with “School of Rock” when her mom took her to auditions after a matinee performance of “The Sound of Music” this summer.
“I didn’t like not being prepared for the audition,” Vivian said. “We talked about what song to sing in the parking lot.”
She sang a selection from “Frozen,” another show she participated in at The Rose. Then show directors noticed her Gretl hairdo, “and made me sing ‘The Hills are Alive,’” she said.
On an RV vacation, she watched the “School of Rock” movie and became familiar with the story so she was prepared for her first rehearsal.
The show’s leaders have confidence in her. She learned her lines in two weeks.
“Her role has an amazing song that opens Act Two,” Santa said. “It has tons of words, and it’s a really tough song.”
The musical uses the songs from the movie, and they’re supplemented by pieces by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Vivian said she’s been interested in music and drama since she was a young child. With her sister, she put on plays for mom Lori Rase when she was fighting breast cancer.
“I started singing when I was 2,” Vivian said, and started to consider performing as a career when she realized she wanted to emulate Taylor Swift.
“She started writing music when she was 15. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really cool. I wanna do that when I grow up,’” Vivian said. “I’m like the mini-Taylor Swift. My mom always says you should follow your dreams.”
Our best Omaha staff photos & videos of September 2022
Wednesday is the start of Danny Elfman Week at the Lied Center for Performing Arts and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, four days of concerts and activities that will end in a stage show by Elfman himself.