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Young Riverhead actors ready to rock the house


More than three dozen students between the ages of 11 and 18 will appear on stage, some with instruments, at Riverhead High School this weekend. No, it’s not for some multi-grade music class. But it is a school: a “School of Rock.” 

Riverhead Faculty and Community Theater will take on the ambitious musical, based on the 2003 film of the same name, in what the production’s director said could mark the first time the 2015 Broadway hit has been performed on Long Island.

“We got some dynamo kids up there,” said director Laura Nitti. “It’s amazing what they pull off.”

Ms. Nitti said she’s had her eye on the musical since seeing it on Broadway in February. She knew right away it was something she wanted to see performed locally.

John Yaiullo stars as Dewey Finn, who was portrayed in the film by actor Jack Black. It’s the first leading role for the 16-year-old from Aquebogue.

“I love Jack Black, I love the Broadway show and it was just a dream come true to be able to do this,” he said.

While John has been playing guitar for about five years, singing is new to him. It’s also something he has to do a lot of in the show.

Although John is typically a low bass, his goofy, hardcore-rocker character sings at a higher pitch.

“It’s a little painful sometimes,” he joked, adding that he quickly got used to singing in front of a large group. The actor, who also plays the drums and bass clarinet, said he loves rock music — and that’s what he enjoys so much about the production.

“It’s unlike any other show,” he said. “All of the cast members are super-talented. All of the kids are playing their instruments live. It’s truly a sight to be seen.”

Skylar Wowak plays principal Rosalie Mullins in 'School of Rock' at Riverhead High School this weekend. (Credit: Krysten Massa)
Skylar Wowak plays principal Rosalie Mullins in ‘School of Rock’ at Riverhead High School this weekend. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

One of those kids is Terrence LeGrady, who plays drummer Freddie Hamilton.

The 12-year-old from Baiting Hollow has been a percussionist in the Riverhead Middle School band for around two years, but has only been playing a drum kit for about four months.

When Terrence heard this year’s musical would be “School of Rock,” he figured he had nothing to lose by trying out.

“I gave it a shot and I actually made it,” he said, smiling widely.

Want to see the show?

‘School of Rock’ will be performed in the Riverhead High School Auditorium Friday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 17, at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 18, at 2 p.m. Tickets, available at brownpapertickets.com, can also be purchased at the door for $15 ($5 for students).

Terrence, like each of his fellow actors and musicians, has put many hours into the show, practicing outside of scheduled rehearsals. He said he’s excited about the final result.

“Come watch us rock!” he said.

Ethan Lucas, a 13-year-old from Calverton, plays Mason Ward, the band’s “tech guy.” Ethan, who has been involved in RFCT productions for the past three years, said “School of Rock” stands out because of its music.

“It’s really cool how we see the instruments live,” he said.

Kate Loren Chapman plays Summer in the play. (Credit: Krysten Massa)
Kate Loren Chapman plays Summer in the play. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

The show’s orchestra pit includes guitar players, a percussionist and a keyboardist, to name a few. All of them collaborate with the actors on stage.

Crystal Crespo, a seventh-grade band teacher at Riverhead Middle School, is conducting the orchestra pit. She was also tasked with preparing the actors who will play their instruments on stage.

“It’s a really cool thing,” Ms. Crespo said, adding that the pit is primarily made up of kids under the age of 18, with just two adults playing guitar.

Ms. Crespo said the orchestra has been practicing twice a week since the end of June, sometimes pulling double rehearsals and working with the actors who play instruments.

Other students who will get to show off their musical talents on stage include Jacob Nitti on guitar, Ben Eager on keyboard and Lana Fusco on bass guitar.

Ms. Nitti said the dedication of the actors and stage crew brought this tricky-to-perform show together.

“The talent that we have in this surrounding area is really amazing,” she said.

Top Caption: John Yaiullo plays teacher Dewey Finn in the Riverhead Faculty and Community Theater production of School of Rock, which debuts Friday night in the Riverhead High School auditorium. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

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