‘School of Rock’ to stick it to the man in Glen Ridge

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Connor Carlin, a 2018 graduate of Bloomfield High School, will play the male lead in the Gas Lamp Junior Players’ production of ‘School of Rock’ next week.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Gas Lamp Junior Players will present a mainstage production of “School of Rock” Nov. 18-20. The male lead, playing the shifty character of Dewey Finn, will be Connor Carlin, no stranger to these parts, having performed regularly at Bloomfield High School as a student and member of the Class of 2018. A recent College of New Jersey graduate, with a major in political science, Carlin was asked to return to the local boards and fill a tough role requiring an older person among junior thespians. 

In a recent interview at Ridgewood Avenue School, where the musical will be performed, he spoke about political science and acting. 

“It started after World War II,” he said about political science, “and has long roots in philosophy. It’s about why people think the way they do. In some ways, it succeeds, but it’s always evolving. There are always new questions to investigate.”

He said he admired, to a degree, President Joseph Biden, but has definite issues with him.

“He could have done a lot of things people in my generation wouldn’t appreciate,” Carlin said. “In that regard, I admire him.”

Carlin said he also admired Abraham Lincoln, saying, “Given the task he had to do, even if you hate him, you can’t deny what he had to do (and that) he did it with skill.”

He said there was a connection between political science and acting.

“Aristotle wrote about poetics and politics,” he said. “There’s stagecraft in the art of trying to convince people of things. There’s an immediate connection between that and the art of theater.”

Carlin said he did not know if he necessarily admired anyone in acting, because his mind goes from moment to moment. Instead, he admires certain acting techniques.

Carlin, who comes from a family of professional actors, said some people may think of acting as an untouchable craft, but he has been around it all his life.

“There’s still the fun of performing,” he said, “being able to perform in a space.”

About the character he will be performing, Carlin said Dewey Finn is a washed-up rocker who comes into a prep school to form a band to fulfill his dreams. Carlin likened “School of Rock” to “The Music Man.” Both male leads are scam artists insinuating themselves into a community for their own benefit.

“Some consider ‘School of Rock’ a modern day ‘Music Man,’” Carlin said. “It’s about a con artist who learns something about himself and everyone is better off for it. Finn realizes there’s more to the kids he’s teaching than fulfilling his own con. His students find self-expression and are not just children who should be seen and not heard.”

Carlin was approached by the show’s director, Heather Ballantyne, and asked to join the cast. 

“The acting communities of Montclair, Glen Ridge and Bloomfield know each other,” he said.

Carlin said he was nervous, at first, to play Finn.

“It’s a rock/tenor role,” he said. “I don’t have that much experience, but I looked at the material and thought it would be fun. Dewey is an extrovert, a big personality who brings people into his orbit but also repels people.”

Carlin said he was more of an introvert, but decided to let down his guard and play Dewey Finn. He is also required to play a guitar.

“It’s been a while since I played,” Carlin said. 

Ballantyne said the musical has a cast of 75.

“I saw it on Broadway four years ago and just loved it,” she said. “It’s about how teachers change lives. It’s our first big production on the stage, so I’m coming back with a vengeance.”

Ballantyne had nothing but praise for her Dewey Finn.

“Connor is great,” she said. “He’s taking on an extremely hard role and needs an insane amount of energy. I’m glad he was up for the challenge. It was difficult to find someone, and, of course, we needed someone a little older.”

In addition to the cast members who will be playing instruments, Ballantyne said, the pit will be filled with Broadway musicians.

“School of Rock” will be performed at Ridgewood Avenue School, 235 Ridgewood Ave. in Glen Ridge, on Friday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 19, at 1 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 20, at 1 p.m.