Stephen Leask has just opened in School of Rock taking on the role of Dewey Finn, the anarchic supply teacher created by Jack Black in the film of the same name. Leask has previously performed as the Alternate Dewey in the show but now takes on the role full time.
For those who may not have seen it, what is School of Rock the Musical about?
Dewey Finn is a wannabe rockstar who is dumped by his band and about to chucked out of his apartment. He pretends to be a substitute teacher to make some money, but discovers that the students are awesome musicians. He teaches them in the ways of rock and, together, they enter the battle of the bands!
What is it like going from alternate Dewey to the leading role?
It feels amazing! As the alternate I was performing three times a week and that really helped to bed in the show and find my own identity with it. Now, having more shows in front of an audience is allowing me to create new things and take the character further. The show is very physical and I find that i’m aching a bit more, but it’s totally worth it!
Dewey is a force of nature. How do you warm up for each show?
I like to get in early and have a decent vocal warm up. I use this time to focus on specific things I do in the show. I hadn’t really had many singing lessons before taking on the role but have discovered a new love for straws! After my vocal, I then have a stretch out and make sure my neck and shoulders are loose! There is a lot of head banging in the show! I then go to full company warm up and complete my physical and vocal. I treat it as more of work out than a warm up to get my energy going. I then join the kids in “band practice” and we jam a couple of songs. They can play just about anything and it’s fun to hang out with them before the show.
Everyone identifies with a different aspect of Dewey, be it his love of music, disregard for the establishment or his vocabulary. Which part of Dewey do you connect with the most?
His energy! The film came out when I was in my final year at school and I remember being blown away by Jack Black’s energy! I have always been very physical and really enjoy tapping into that. Dewey is also very passionate and I can really connect with his drive to fulfill his dreams!
One of the best parts of the show is the kids playing their own instruments live on stage and having fun with it. How is it working with such a young ensemble?
The kids are a huge part of this show and I love working with them. I am constantly astounded by their professionalism, dedication and talent. People often think that I am “in charge” of them, but we are colleagues. 90% of my show is with one of the three teams and they all have different personalities. It’s a real team effort and I couldn’t do it without them.
Away from School of Rock you are involved in a theatre company that makes Shakespeare accessible. How important is access to theatre and the arts, including for young people?
I was very fortunate to have been taken to many plays and musicals when I was younger. I don’t think I would be working in this industry if I hadn’t been inspired by what I was watching. Drama and theatre can help develop communication skills, literacy and confidence. When Merely Theatre performs, there is a huge emphasis on making Shakespeare understandable. We like to plunge the audience into the action with pace and energy. Hopefully by engaging the audience with our love for it we can inspire them to discover their own.
A lot of the show focuses on the kids aspirations. If you could talk to yourself at their age, what advice would you offer?
Be patient and don’t worry. I feel that sometimes kids can be pressured into mapping out their futures at too young an age. I didn’t actually think, “I can do acting as a job” until I was 18. Even then, it took me two years to get into drama school. Then three years of training, followed by ten years of struggling and working. I’ve had to be patient. You don’t need to rush, everyone has their own journey.
Can you give an example of something that you would like to ‘Stick it to the Man’?
Junk Mail! I get an incredible amount of junk mail and it’s always from people trying to sell me things! I know Dewey would hate that.
Why do you think people should come and see School of Rock?
It’s inspiring and fun! You’ll laugh and rock out! The music is incredible and the kids are awesome!
Thanks for having Tea With Wilma
Interview by Harrison Fuller
School of Rock the Musical continues at the New London Theatre, currently booking to 13 January 2019. Book tickets