'School of Rock -- The Musical' star got theater start in Wheaton
Autograph hounds hanging around the Cadillac Palace Theatre stage door for the Chicago touring debut of "School of Rock -- The Musical" will have to arrive extra early or wait a while if they want to catch leading man Rob Colletti. That's because the actor, who grew up in Glen Ellyn and Wheaton, has a strict two-hour warmup of physical stretching and vocal exercises along with a 30-minute post-show cool down.
"This role is by far the most difficult role I've ever played," Colletti said. "Not in a painful sense, but in the workload required."
Colletti plays Dewey Finn, an unconventional substitute teacher who empowers a group of elite private school students by teaching them how to rock. This hit 2015 Broadway musical adaptation of the 2003 film features new songs by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber ("Cats") and lyricist Glenn Slater ("Sister Act"), plus an adapted script by Julian Fellowes ("Downton Abbey").
Colletti's rigorous pre- and post-show routines sound surprising -- especially if you picture film star Jack Black, who created the role on screen. Dewey may not look like an elite athlete, but anyone who performs him up to eight times a week onstage has to train like one.
"Out of a two hour and 30-minute show, (Dewey) is onstage for all but about 10 or 12 minutes," Colletti said. "It's an enormous undertaking."
Colletti also revealed that the audition process was a test of endurance. Colletti had to work for months online with a U.K.-based vocal coach via Skype to ensure that he could sing the show nightly without blowing out his voice.
"They had us do literally months of physical preparation with a trainer. I had to lose 20 pounds to get the role," Colletti said.
All this work is a change for Colletti, whose previous professional theater work was as a standby Elder Cunningham in touring and Broadway companies of "The Book of Mormon." Colletti is relishing the chance to take full-time command of a major role, while also being an example to a large company of talented kid performers.
"They blow me out of the water on a nightly basis. It's remarkable how talented they are," said Colletti about the kids who play their own instruments in the show. "Some of these kids are better than adult musicians I've played with in bands through the years."
Colletti also said he envied how his kid co-stars are getting so much professional stage experience at such a young age. It's a contrast to his own musical and acting story.
"I started playing guitar when I was 10 and then I fell into theater several years later by accident," Colletti said.
That "accident" involved getting the leading role in "Clue -- The Musical" at St. Francis High School in Wheaton by just going along to auditions with a nervous friend.
"I had a great time and started doing all the plays in high school," he said. "And before you knew it, I was pursuing it as a degree (at Columbia College)."
Colletti said he is a huge fan of Jack Black in "School of Rock," but he prefers the stage adaptation.
"The movie is about Jack Black, but this musical version is about the kids," Colletti said. "The Dewey Finn character is there and he facilitates and moves the action forward, but the journey you really care about is of the children."
"('School of Rock') obviously does not have the clout of what a 'Hamilton' has. That is kind of unfortunate because I can't think of any other show that's out right now that empowers children the way that this show does," Coletti said. "When you look out into the audience and see these kids and their parents wide-eyed at the prospect of like, 'I'm going to leave the theater tonight, go to bed and wake up tomorrow and go to Guitar Center to buy a guitar. Because now I want to have an experience like this. I want to open up my world to the power of music.'"
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"School of Rock -- The Musical"
Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayin chicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also Sunday, Nov. 5); 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday (also Wednesday, Nov. 8 and 15); runs Nov. 1-19