Most parents think their children are pretty special. Who can argue with that? However, as a community Westchester County has produced a multitude of kids who, either on Broadway, the silver screen or television, have fulfilled their promise of star potential including Vanessa Williams, Jason Bateman, Denzel Washington and Rooney Mara.
Although their careers are just beginning, three kids currently performing in Broadway’s School of Rock hail from Westchester. If history proves right, these kids have an early start on adding to the list of talented performers from our county.
We recently sat down with Rachel Katzke of Scarsdale, Colin Lauri of Larchmont and Cory Logan of New Rochelle to learn more about their Broadway debuts in School of Rock and what it’s like to be a an actor – and a kid.
It takes a lot of moxie to tread the boards of Broadway, but that doesn’t mean that these young actors aren’t anything but kids first. Surprisingly thoughtful, humble and hardworking, aside from their outsized talent, these kids could be your average next-door neighbor with the same concerns and joys as any local youngster.
While Westchester kids are no strangers to overscheduling, these three exceed even the highest expectations of what can be accomplished in a day. Balance is the goal, but often something has to give. “It’s hard to keep your extra-curricular activities going, you usually have to drop them,” says 12-year-old Rachel Katzke, who started playing the violin when she was 5 and was inspired to learn the bass guitar for the show. “Yeah,” adds Cory Logan, a guitar player since the ripe age of 2, who now at 10 says it’s important to “free up your schedule.” At 11, Colin Lauri, who along with his older and younger sister has always enjoyed singing and music, says he sometimes feels like he has “swing brain.” In theatrical terms a swing is someone who plays or understudies more than one role. Lauri explains, “It’s hard sometimes, as a swing I have to remember many parts and be ready to go on at anytime for any of them.”
And then they glance sideways at each other and practically shout out in unison, “It’s a big commitment!” Followed quickly by individual exclamations of just how much fun it is.
Another thing they are happy to agree about is, unlike the characters they play in the show, in real-life they don’t have to wear school uniforms. Between the three of them they fulfill their school obligations through a combination of homeschooling, tutoring and/or a reduced school schedule. Because these days they spend a lot of time in their other school – The School of Rock.
School of Rock is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2015 Broadway musical version of the 2003 Paramount Pictures film of the same name. This huge success can be added to Sir Webber’s other Broadway hits, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.
The story follows the adventures of down-on-his-luck rock musician Dewey Finn who finds himself an unlikely substitute teacher at the haughty Horace Green School (were you thinking Horace Greeley meets Horace Mann – me too). Despite their privileged life Finn finds the kids at Horace Green have a lot in common with all kids – the need to be heard and to express themselves.
The first act has the students lamenting their relationships with adults in “If Only You Would Listen.” When asked if they relate to this song our Westchester kids say it’s a truth that often kids just don’t feel heard. They agree that parents are on their phone a lot (take note) and sometimes don’t make time to just talk with them – or listen to them.
As unlikely a teacher as Finn is, he teaches the kids that they all have something to contribute and should not be afraid of standing up for themselves. In fact, Finn sees rock n’ roll as a way to “Stick It to the Man.” When we asked who is “the man” everyone had an answer. Logan says, “The man is anyone who makes the rules, like teachers and parents.” Lauri pipes up, “The man can also be a woman.” And then Katzke adds, “The man can be anything that angers you – not necessarily a person.”
In the second act Finn rallies the kids to compete in a Battle of the Bands and while they may not get the ultimate win – the crowd goes wild and they all feel like winners. What’s the message? These three think the show takes a pro-kid stand. Lauri says the message of the show is that kids matter too. Logan agrees and adds that kids are smart and can contribute – not just adults. “Be yourself,” is an important message of the show says Katzke.
These kids didn’t necessarily start out with Broadway in mind. The interest usually beagn with local theatre and local lessons. “My very first performance was with Random Farms Kids Theatre – we did Robin Hood,” says Katzke. “I’ve also taken voice and dance class, actually my older sister was interested in performing and then I tried it and loved it!”
Lauri’s siblings are also involved in theatrical pursuits. “I have done three shows with Westchester Sandbox Theatre and my sister has done nine!”
Like most kids these three learn fast. When asked if there is such a thing as good or bad audiences they speak right up. “The audience can give us energy,” says Katzke.” A good audience can keep you going, a bad audience doesn’t get excited – they don’t clap much.”
Lauri agrees, “You can feel the crowd, a full crowd usually laughs more.” And some crowds are just pumped up right from the start. “One time the audience started cheering when we were just pushing our desks off stage – they were that into it,” says Logan.
New York resident J. Michael Zygo, who plays Doug; Mr. Spencer; and is in the ensemble, says it’s great working with the kids. “I did the National Tour of Annie so I have experience with young actors,” he says.
Zygo was also young when he started in theatre. “I was the kid with glasses and a bit of a nerd, I say that proudly now,” says Zygo. “In 7th grade I was just singing along in class and the teacher told me I had a terrific voice and should be in choir – I did and it changed my world.” An instrumentalist himself and father to a 3 1/2 -year-old daughter, Zygo says it’s inspiring to have “kid energy” around.
He also knows he has a responsibility. “I try to be an example to developing minds – this is how you treat others, this is how to behave, this is how to be a professional in the theatrical environment.” he says. “I play a part in these kids’ lives.”
Zygo’s wife, Jillian Nyhan Zygo is also an actor. And she is a founding member of the Local 764, Guardian Union. As a Child Actor Guardian she oversees the care, professional behavior and well-being of child performers while they are in theatres and rehearsal spaces. Our three Westchster kids overwhelmingly agree that guardians, male and female, are very important. “They help you stay safe, help you get ready on time and help you navigate your way around the theatre,” says Lauri.
It’s probably no surprise that the kids think this is an excellent show for kids and their families. Good news because more kids are seeing Broadway shows.
Earlier this year the Broadway League, the national trade association for the Broadway industry, released its annual demographics report, “The Demographics of the Broadway Audience 2016-2017.” The study found that the number of Broadway theatregoers under 18 was the highest since this analysis began (1998-1999).
“Last season brought people from all over the world to a Broadway show, but we were especially popular right in our own backyard with the highest number of theatregoers from New York City since the 1998-1999 season!” says Charlotte St. Martin, President of the Broadway League. “We also saw a record high number of attendances by kids and teens, perhaps thanks to events such as Kids’ Night on Broadway®, Broadway Bridges™, and the Jimmy® Awards – all programs designed to encourage young people to be interested in theatre.”
Despite the busy schedule and hard work the kids say there aren’t too many downs to being in a Broadway show. “I do miss my school and my friends,” says Katzke. “But some of them have come to see the show!”
As parting advice all three agree on something their parents must love to hear. The words tumble out as if they are saying them in a round, “Get as much sleep as you can, you need it.”
Jean Sheff holds a BFA in Theatre and is editor and co-publisher of Westchester Family.
Kids and teens see Broadway shows for free!
On one special evening this winter, kids take over Broadway! The Broadway League invites young people ages 18 and under to attend a participating Broadway show for free when accompanied by a full-paying adult.
The 22nd annual Kids’ Night on Broadway takes place on one night only, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. More than 15 Broadway shows in New York City are getting in on the act. Kids’ Night also takes place in other cities across the U.S. all year long.
For more information, visit KidsN