By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Elysia Jordan is getting an education – and having a blast – as part of the cast of the “School of Rock” touring production.
The Canfield native has been traveling with the musical based on the 2003 film since the inaugural U.S. tour began last year. It’s her first gig with a Broadway show tour.
“School of Rock” features a musical score composed by theater legend Andrew Lloyd Webber and a book by “Downton Abbey” writer Julian Fellowes. In addition to the tour, the musical is also playing on Broadway and in London, and an Australian production is getting set to begin.
Reached by phone from her hotel in Houston, Jordan said she is honored to be part of the show and called it an amazing life experience.
She has been involved in theater since she was a child,
and has performed in many shows at the Youngstown Playhouse and for Easy Street Productions.
Valley theatergoers might remember her as Belle in Easy Street’s impressive 2007 production of “Beauty and the Beast” at Powers Auditorium. She was known as Elysia Shutrump back then; she started using the stage name Elysia Jordan (Jordan is her middle name) when she joined the actors union.
In “School of Rock,” Jordan plays the role of Mrs. Hathaway – mother of the precocious young band manager Summer Hathaway. She also handles the role of a teacher at the school where the musical is set and is part of the ensemble.
Jordan is also the understudy for the role of Miss Mullins, the school principal. Joan Cusack played the role in the film.
She had to play the role in Pittsburgh when the regular actress sprained her ankle. It was October and early in the tour.
“Pittsburgh was a totally crazy awesome experience,” she said. “It was at Benedum Center. I had seen touring shows there when I was growing up, so it was magic.”
The fact that Jordan got to step into the lead role at a theater so close to her hometown was a plus. Her parents and other relatives from Canfield naturally came to the show and got to see Jordan play the lead for the first time. She wound up playing it several more times during the show’s Pittsburgh run.
“It was nerve-wracking and cool and a first for me career-wise,” she said.
The plot of “School of Rock” revolves around a small-time rock and roller named Dewey Finn who is big on enthusiasm, if not talent. He wheedles his way into a substitute teaching post at an exclusive school for grade-school age children, and turns the talented kids into a formidable rock band.
When adapting a popular film to the stage, it’s important to leave in key scenes and dialog, and that is what was done for “School of Rock.” The familiarity increases the connection for those in the seats.
“[Audience members] will say ‘I was so glad they kept that line in’,” said Jordan.
The film was not a musical, so Lloyd Webber composed a score that includes some new song and dance numbers. One happens when Dewey passes out instruments to his students and suddenly realizes that they can play. “The audience goes crazy,” said Jordan.
Jordan, by the way, met Lloyd Webber when he came to a performance in Columbus in October.
The 16 child actors in the cast range in age from 9 to 12 and are the heart of the show. They also do double-duty as musicians and are quite good.
“It’s hard for the audience to believe that it is the kids playing on stage,” said Jordan. “When they are playing, the show’s band is down in the pit with their arms folded, looking up at them.”
Jordan was able to put her finger on the allure of “School of Rock” and its unique ability to grow its audience.
“It’s a delightful show about the power of music and following your dreams,” she said. “Older people who loved the movie come, and they bring their kids who have never seen it, and they get excited when they see other kids their age playing rock music on stage. It makes more fans.”
There currently is no Cleveland run scheduled for “School of Rock,” but that could change in the coming year.
In the meantime, the musical is scheduled to play at Procter and Gamble Hall in Cincinnati Feb. 21 to March 4.