The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Meet little big artists who shake up 'School of Rock' live stage

By Park Ga-young

Published : Jan. 29, 2024 - 18:24

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Cast members of Cast members of "School of Rock" greet the audience during their tour in 2019 at Charlotte Theater in Seoul. (S&Co)

The musical "School of Rock" starts with an announcement by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote the music for the musical, asking a key question: "Do the kids really play their rock instruments live?" The answer is an emphatic "Yes, they do!" Webber declares.

The announcement is made because, without the notice, many people find it hard to believe that they are witnessing child actors with an average age of 11.5, rocking out with exceptional musical talent and energetic performances.

A team of 17 versatile cast members alternates playing the 12 characters for each show, depending on their condition and the situation. Rather than each actor sticking to one character, some characters are portrayed by two or three actors.

The little big artists who are selected through auditions are guitarists Hanley Webb and Harry Churchill and bass guitarists Samia Rose Afify and Emerald Finbow, keyboardists James Breen and Thomas Thorneycroft and drummers Dexter Barry and Samuel Bickmore.

James Breen (left) and Samuel Bickmore (S&CO) James Breen (left) and Samuel Bickmore (S&CO)

Child actors who have been establishing themselves at musical theaters in their home countries, including Hanya Zhang, Amelia Katie Connor, Grace Nettle, Joseph Sharpe, Kaci Theobald and Ollie Vaughan. Eden Felix and Alana Aspinall are making their stage debut with “School of Rock.”

Drummer Samuel Bickmore and keyboardist James Breen spoke to The Korea Herald on Thursday at the Seoul Arts Center before they were called in to be on stand-by in the event of emergency.

Bickmore and Breen were born just one day apart -- on New Year's Eve and on New Year's Day. At the age of 6, both found their passion much earlier than most typical kids.

Bickmore began to learn the drums, while Breen began piano lessons, followed by dance and acting classes.

In this first stop of the world tour, the two said they were gaining confidence and support from the audience here.

“At first, we thought that there would be a quiet audience, and we were told you can’t hear a smile. But then it was opening night and all we could hear were claps and whoops. It was really mind-blowing how supportive the Korean people can be towards musical theater,” Breen said.

“Considering that also, it's not their language that they're actually hearing in the show, they're just really great at supporting everyone,” Bickmore added.

As the performances continue, they are also growing by making mistakes and helping each other.

“It's been absolutely amazing and to think that we have only been here about two months, and we've already grown this much, it's just mind-blowing,” Breen said. "(We make) so many mistakes but we're just very good at covering them up," he added.

In return, the cast hopes to touch the audience, not only with their talents but also with what the story offers -- bonds between adults and children.

"Adults and children are trying to do something impossible that no one really thinks they can do, and then they do it and then they form such a strong bond," Breen noted, adding, "It's also about how it encourages adults to give children that place where they can feel like they're being listened to. But it's also about encouraging children to listen to others as well,"

“I feel like the key out there of the show is for the parents to listen to their kids let them do what they want to do follow their dreams. And yeah, just great for the younger children,” Bickmore said.

Participating in the world tour means being one step closer in achieving their respective dreams.

Bickmore’s dream is to join a big rock band and do a world tour.

“It’s helping me because I can, first of all, play in front of a live audience on my drums and it is also helping me build up my confidence. It's just been really great,” Bickmore said.

Breen, who has been learning acting, singing and dancing, is setting his eyes on bigger stages like films and TV shows. “In the future, I’d like to be like a TV and stage actor. So on stage, I love musicals like 'School of Rock,' which is directed toward kids. I also love musicals for teens and film,” he said.

The music of “School of Rock,” which is based on the 2003 movie of the same title, is by Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose notable work includes “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

The world tour kicked off at the Seoul Arts Center on Jan. 12, where will run until March 24. After the Seoul performances, the production is scheduled to begin its Busan run at Dream Theater in April.

After its Korea tours, "School of Rock" is set to continue its tours in other Asian countries throughout this year.