In the immortal words of the Who, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
In this instance, we refer to Dewey Finn, the guitar-shredding substitute teacher in School of Rock.
Jack Black originated the role in the audience-pleasing 2003 movie. Now, in Nickelodeon’s kid-centric sitcom spinoff, Tony Cavalero leads the band of pint-sized rock ’n’ rollers.
The series, which premieres at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, more or less sticks to the plot of the movie: Rules-breaking teacher mentors a group of musically gifted students so they can compete in a Battle of the Bands.
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But the new version will flesh out the story with more about the kids of William B. Travis Preparatory School in Austin as they morph from repressed middle-schoolers into confident rock gods.
It’s like a cover band’s version of a popular song: the same yet different, different yet the same.
Cavalero, a member of the L.A.-based Groundlings improv company, is having the time of his life as Dewey Finn.
Tony Cavalero wasn’t intimidated in the least about stepping into Jack Black’s sneakers.
“I absolutely loved the movie,” he says. “I bet I’ve watched it at least 100 times. And I’m a big Jack Black fan, ever since he was in the movie Airborne back in the 1990s.”
That said, Cavalero wasn’t intimidated in the least about stepping into Black’s sneakers.
“As much as I love Jack as an actor and a comedian, my connection was to the character,” he says. “I think Dewey is a lot like me: very passionate and a kid at heart. I felt like my personality would put a different big, silly spin on this iconic role.”
Meanwhile, the group of young actors who round out the regular cast, most of whom will be instantly familiar to loyal Nickelodeon viewers, is solid from top to bottom.
Early standouts are Breanna Yde as Tomika, the bass-playing lead vocalist; Ricardo Hurtado as Freddy, the bad-boy drummer; and Jade Pettyjohn as Summer, the tone-deaf girl who ultimately finds her niche as the band’s manager.
“They are the nicest, funniest and most talented kids I know,” Cavalero says. “They’re complete professionals in every way, yet amazingly they haven’t forgotten how to be genuine, lighthearted, joyful kids at the same time.”
And like their characters, they’re getting an enlightening education in face-melting classic rock.
We ate, slept and breathed rock ’n’ roll when we were shooting the show.
“In between takes, we were constantly listening to music and talking about what our favorite Led Zeppelin album was or what Nirvana song we loved the most,” Cavalero says. “We ate, slept and breathed rock ’n’ roll when we were shooting the show.”
Fittingly, all of the episode titles are inspired by classic rock songs — from Come Together by the Beatles and You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones to We’re Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister and Should I Stay or Should I Go? by the Clash.
Over the course of the season, the as-yet-unnamed band performs such classics as What I Like About You by the Romantics and The Kids Are All Right by the Who — although a few songs from this century (Demi Lovato’s Heart Attack and Meghan Trainor’s Lips Are Moving) will make the playlist.
If Cavalero has his say, his young co-stars will get the Led out for the rest of their lives.
“Oh, man, Zeppelin is my favorite classic rock band of all time,” he says. “I also love Van Halen and the Beatles and the Who. And I did a movie on punk rock and fell in love with bands like the Dead Kennedys and the Misfits and Circle Jerks. I think they’re fantastic, too.”
Maybe, instead of the Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again, the song referenced at the beginning of this story should have been Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Teach Your Children.
School of Rock
- Premieres 8:30 p.m. Saturday (then moves to 7:30 p.m. Saturdays)