A Co Antrim actress who appeared in the last Panto at the Grand Opera House before Covid forced its closure has told of her excitement at returning to the same stage in an Olivier award-winning West End musical.
Joanna O’Hare from Lisburn will be back in the newly-refurbished theatre next month in the smash hit Andrew Lloyd Webber production School of Rock.
The actress, who trained at Mountview Academy in London, will play the roles of a teacher and a parent in the ensemble cast, as well as first cover for the lead Rosalie Mullins, the principal of the fictional Horace Green Prep School.
And for Joanna, whose debut professional performance was in the Lloyd Webber show, The Phantom of the Opera, it’s a dream come true to be coming back to Belfast with School of Rock.
“I appeared in the previous two Pantos at the Grand Opera House, Jack and the Beanstalk and Beauty and the Beast but then Covid hit, and all the theatres had to close,” said Joanna.
“To be returning to the same venue in a West End production such as School of Rock is going to be really special for me, particularly as my friends and family will all be there, including my grandparents who never really get to see my shows.
“We took School of Rock to Korea in 2019 and it was an amazing six months, playing at three different venues.
“Rehearsals for this production began in August and we opened in Hull in September. It’s such a joyful show anyway, but to be back on stage after lockdown was an amazing experience.”
School of Rock is based on the popular movie which follows failed, wannabe rock star Dewey Finn, who decides to earn a few extra bucks posing as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. There, he turns a class of straight A students into a guitar-shredding rock band and also helps the school’s uptight headmistress discover her inner wild child. In the film, Jack Black played the role of Dewey, while Jake Sharp takes it on in the new musical production.
The band, made up of three talented teams of 12 children, will perform live every show.
Joanna, who attended Friends school, said she watched the School of Rock film growing up and was a huge fan. And she said the key message of the show was still relevant today, if not more so.
“The kids attend a strict, grade-orientated school where their voices have been quietened,” explains Joanna.
“Then Dewey comes along, and they have someone who listens to them. Through the power of music, they are able to express themselves, to be themselves and to become the best version of themselves.
“The message is clear – be yourself unapologetically. Be proud of who you are and don’t compare yourself to other people.
“There is a stereotypical image of what ‘cool’ is but School of Rock challenges that and the ending sees the parents and children come together. It’s so heartwarming to see and the message of being true to yourself is still relevant now, if not more so.”
Joanna said time out during lockdown had given her space to reflect on how important theatre was to her but that it had also led to a widespread, renewed appreciation for the arts.
“Our sector was hit hard, and many actors found themselves getting creative with new work or having to change careers,” she said.
“But we’re a resilient bunch and I really think that no one will take anything for granted again; neither actors nor audiences.
“So far, we’ve had packed houses for the show and raucous applause. Everyone is loving being back at the theatre.
“It’s been a really tough 18 months, but I think people are coming back with a greater appreciation of the arts and the joy that it brings into so many lives.”
School of Rock will run at the Grand Opera House from Tuesday, November 9 to Saturday, November 13.