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Oakland School for the Arts Makes History: First in World to Perform ‘School of Rock' Off Broadway

"It’s a big deal," OSA executive director Donn Harris said about the West Coast premiere of the show.

Students at Oakland School for the Arts will be the first amateur group in the world to perform the musical "School of Rock" off Broadway, which kicks off Thursday night and has already sold out each of its eight performances.

"It’s a big deal," OSA executive director Donn Harris said on Wednesday.

Added eighth-grader Samantha Kane, who plays the uptight lead female role of Summer Hathaway: "I’m the first Summer who is not on Broadway. I get to create her for myself and dig deep. It’s crazy awesome."

Donn Harris
Director Michael Berry addresses the "School of Rock" cast at Oakland School for the Arts. Feb. 26, 2016

That a school performs a Broadway show away from New York City is not news. That students from the Oakland School for the Arts, a charter school and premier e institution created by mayor-turned-governor Jerry Brown in 2002, could pull off such a feat is also par for the course. (Brown was invited to Friday night's performance, no word yet on whether the governor will be there.)

But what’s unprecedented in this case, Harris explained, is that the world-renowned composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (think "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera") decided to release the Broadway hit to be performed on the West Coast to amateurs, and he picked student artists at OSA to debut the show. The decision to release a successful Broadway show to non-professionals in such a short time is also unusual, Harris said. The musical has only been on Broadway since 2015.

The school still has to pay for licensing rights, Harris said, declining to say just how much. But a typical licensing price range, Harris said, runs between $500 to $5,000.

In case you need catching up on the Broadway hit based on the 2003 movie: "School of Rock" tells the story of struggling rock singer and guitarist Dewey Finn, played by Jack Black in the film, who is kicked out of his band and disguises himself as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school, where he forms a band of fifth-graders to enter the Battle of the Bands.

Harris said the decision to let the Oakland school take the lead was because of luck, skill and some connections made between he and Carole Shorenstein Hays, owner of the Curran Theater in San Francisco, where the show will be performed as part of the Under Construction series. Auditions were held in mid-December, and the school acknowledges there wasn't much time between casting and showtime.

While there are no more $40 tickets available for the Oakland School for the Arts version, Harris said he’s aware of 300 schools across the country that have signed up to perform "School of Rock," too.

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