By Ron Fassler
With School of Rock closing January 20th after an impressive run of three years and just over 1,300 performances, I was happily invited to see the show and speak with two of its young cast members, Montgomery Lamb and Matthew Jost. When I asked twelve-year-old Montgomery, who has been in the show for over a year now playing Katie, the band’s bass guitarist, what her feelings were about the show ending, she said, “I’m going to be unemployed, I’m sad to say.” And who can blame her for feeling sad? Even adult actors would miss the weekly salary to which a year’s run on Broadway adds up. But a pre-teen like Montgomery doesn’t have to worry about heading out into the workforce as adult actors must. Her top priority right now is returning to seventh grade and hanging with her friends (though she is totally ready for another acting challenge the minute it comes calling).
The same goes for sixth-grader Matthew Jost, who plays Zack. Like Montgomery, Zack performs in School of Rock eight times a week, although he’s been doing it for around half the time, having only joined the cast this past July. A talented electric guitar player, eleven-year-old Matthew has been working on his craft since age eight. Having started playing around the time he first saw School of Rock, the show inspired him to work harder, since he envisioned one day being in it, remote as that possibility may have been. “I went to see it again a few months later, and after that I went to an open [casting] call and I got a call back, but I didn’t get it. Then when I auditioned later, I was a better guitar player and singer (but not much of an actor—I learned acting from School of Rock), and I got cast as Zack. So here I am—a dream come true.”
As an audience member, I was impressed by how Montgomery and Zack—as well as their ten cohorts who make up the young ensemble of School of Rock—exuded a combination of unbridled energy, in tandem with a responsible discipline. Having first begun attending Broadway at around Montgomery and Zack’s age (fifty years ago), a show cast with young people in leading roles was unheard of back then. I’m not sure children in that time would have been capable of what these young kids are doing nightly in School of Rock. There’s something about the world after the year 2000 that has caused young people (for better or worse) to grow up a lot more quickly than they did once upon a time, way back in the 20th century.
As for how Montgomery and Matthew deal with fans at the stage door and signing autographs, naturally, they are both thrilled by the attention. “The audience and their energy, and the fans have been amazing,” gushed Montgomery. “I love taking selfies with everybody after the show. When kids say to me that they want to pick up the bass because of me, that’s phenomenal.” For Matthew, he enjoys fooling around a bit on the autograph line, sometimes pretending to be a fan instead of one of the cast members. “I’ll go up to my friend Justin Collette, who plays Dewey, and ask him for his autograph. Then he’ll sign my hand and write something really funny.”
In addition to all the fun stuff, Matthew and Montgomery take seriously the important aspects of maintaining their performances. “We get a lot of notes on how the show is, performance to performance, so we can keep it in good shape,” says Matthew. “David Ruttura [the associate director] has told me ‘You can always do better.’ And I think that’s one of the most important things I’ve learned from being in the show.” Montgomery agrees: “Even though I hang out a lot with the kids, I’ve really learned a lot from the adults. They’ve been great role models for me and I love how they’ve been such influences in my life.”
Of course, once the show closes, “not getting to see your friends anymore is going to be hard,” says Montgomery. But with social media being what it is, neither she nor Matthew think this will mean an end to their theatrical family. As Montgomery emphatically declared: “I’m going to keep up with everybody.” And Matthew may take things a step further, as he informed me that there’s always a possibility for reunions, in the mode of a concert that is happening right before School of Rock closes on January 20th. “Some of the kids are going to be playing at the Green Room on 42nd Street. It’ll be on January 16th, so if anybody wants to go, come check it out.”
School of Rock is at the Winter Garden Theatre (1634 Broadway at 50th Street) now through January 20th.