If you were looking for somebody to write a stage musical that celebrates the monster riffage of hard-rock pioneers like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, your mind probably wouldn't immediately leap to the guys behind such genteel properties as Downton Abbey and Cats.
But writer Julian Fellowes and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber have made School of Rock into a Tony-nominated success, and a touring production is making its way to Spokane for the first time since its 2015 Broadway debut.
It is, of course, an adaptation of the hit 2003 film, and both center on Dewey Finn (played in the touring production by Merritt David Janes), a slacker with rock star aspirations who's kicked out of his band for being too much of a showboat. When he happens to get a call intended for his friend and roommate about a substitute teaching gig at the prestigious Horace Green Academy, a slightly cleaned-up Dewey goes in his place, and convinces uptight principal Rosalie Mullins (Lexie Dorsett Sharp) that he's the real deal.
He then discovers the precocious students under his questionable tutelage are talented musicians, and he secretly puts together an all-kid rock ensemble and plans to enter them in a battle of the bands. Dewey and the kids develop an unexpected bond despite all this subterfuge, and learn about the glories of Jimmy Page and Angus Young along the way.
"There's definitely a message to it," says actress Deidre Lang, who has been part of the show's touring ensemble since it first hit the road. "Kids have a voice, and Dewey listens to them when their parents never do. Through him, the parents end up seeing, 'OK, my kid has thoughts and other dreams.' It's a come-together, feel-good family thing that everyone can get into."
Lang is originally from New Jersey, and she says she always knew she wanted to be a performer, waking up in the middle of the night to watch old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies on TV. She was a student at New York's prestigious Ailey School of Dance for only three months before she got a role in a European production of the jazz musical Bubbling Brown Sugar.
Since then, she's had a whirlwind career. She was one of the original Fly Girl dancers on the Fox sketch show In Living Color. She performed on Broadway with The Lion King, Ragtime and The Who's Tommy, and in national tours of Cats and Hairspray.
Lang's family is now based in Las Vegas — her husband is also a performer, and is currently on tour with The Lion King — and she says she'll likely stay home for a while with her teenage daughters after School of Rock tour ends. She's traveled an untold number of miles over the years, and life on the road has its pros and cons.
"You never get to put roots down anywhere, but you get to see the country," Lang says from a tour stop in Omaha, Nebraska. "Traveling around, it's easy to get sick. And we have a lot of kids in our show, so that's a challenge to keep everyone healthy. ... I do like solitude. I know I'll be back with my family soon, so I'm taking advantage of the time I have with myself."
Lang plays Ms. Sheinkopf, one of the teachers at Horace Green who doesn't initially take kindly to Dewey's unorthodox methods. It's a character who didn't have much to do in the original film, but it has been expanded for the stage, and Lang says she gets to have a few show-stopping moments.
"Even though it's kind of an ensemble, I still have my little standouts and [get to] be funny, live those comedian dreams," she says.
But it's really Lang's youngest co-stars, actors and musicians ranging between the ages of 9 and 12, who get the most love from audiences.
"They play instruments live every night. They're singers and dancers, and they're really, really talented," Lang says. "We always get a great response just because of them. We're good, too," she laughs, referring to her fellow grown-up actors, "but it's really all about them." ♦
School of Rock • Wed-Sun, May 8-12; showtimes vary • $50-$98 • First Interstate Center for the Arts • 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. • inbpac.com • 279-7000