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THEATER Kristian Espiritu schools audiences at Cadillac Palace
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Based on the hit film, the musical version of School of Rock follows the adventures of Dewey Finn, a rocker who lands a job as a substitute teacher then transforms the students into a band. Featuring Andrew Lloyd Webber's music with Glenn Slater's lyrics and book by Julian Fellowes, the show debuted on Broadway and now travels across the country.

Kristian Espíritu is an ensemble member of the national tour. She brings experience from past productions such as Here Lies Love and Over the Pass. She spoke on the phone before hitting the road.

Windy City Times: Where are you from, originally?

Kristian Espiritu: I was born in New York in Queens, and I lived in Staten Island for a little bit. I eventually moved to LA with my mom. I would consider that my home. I am still there and went to college there. My dad and his family are on the East Coast so Brooklyn is my home base there. I consider myself bicoastal.

WCT: Where does your last name come from?

KE: My parents were born in the Philippines in Manila.

WCT: When did you study theater?

KE: It wasn't until middle school that I fell into a little bit of theater. It was my eighth-grade graduation play. That was the first time I did anything onstage.

In high school, I tried to find another outlet for singing other than choirs. That is where musical theater came in.

WCT: What is your part in School of Rock?

KE: I am part of the adult female ensemble. We are the teachers and the kids' parents. We also have a few little scenes with Dewey. I play Mrs. Gordon, the English teacher. I play Lawrence's mom, Mrs. Turner, at the end for parents' night.

WCT: Is there a Stevie Nicks scene like in the movie?

KE: That is not my part but I am in the scene where Stevie Nicks starts playing on the jukebox in the bar. It is a fun scene. We are supposed to act like, "Why is this playing in the bar?" but in my head I like the song and have to tell myself that I don't like it!

WCT: Are you a fan of the 2003 movie?

KE: I loved the movie. School of Rock has always been one of my favorites. I remember watching it at sleepovers. I really enjoyed it before I wound up touring with it.

WCT: How does the Andrew Lloyd Webber version add to the musical?

KE: The show already has several songs, the most notable one being "Teacher's Pet." The creative team has taken the songs that were already in the movie, put them into the musical, fleshed out some bits that Jack Black did into more meaty songs. Andrew Lloyd Webber has written at least a dozen new songs into the stage version.

Other than that, almost the whole book is straight out of the movie.

WCT: Are his songs Webberish-sounding?

KE: They sound Webberish in way that the musical has guitar licks melded into it. There's a catchy melody going on throughout the show especially with the song "Stick it to the Man." You will definitely leave singing that song. Rosalie Mullins has her power-rock ballad "Where Did the Rock Go?" Those songs pop into my head all the time.

Webber makes these songs sound like classic rock 'n' roll. There is some hard rock and songs you might hear on the radio today. They have some funny lyrics to move the plot along.

WCT: Can you compare this to other musicals, possibly Spring Awakening?

KE: There is some commonality with School of Rock and Spring Awakening—not just in the sense that it is modern but in the way that they are pushing the message to let children be children. They can grow up to whatever they are going to and have an open mind. Clearly in both shows, suppressing those feelings will just lead to birthing a pressure cooker. I definitely see a similar theme to Spring Awakening.

WCT: How do you identify on the LGBT spectrum?

KE: I identify as a queer person of color. I think queer is more all encompassing. I feel a stigma if I just say bisexual, so I prefer queer.

WCT: Are there other LGBT cast members on this tour?

KE: There are, as well as characters in the show. A lot of it is indirect, such as Tomika's parents [being] two gay dads. During the song "If Only You Would Listen," Tomika is trying to get her two dads to listen to her. It is not a huge storyline except that there is conflict between children and parents, but they are there and represented.

There is also Billy's character who might grow up to be a homosexual, but he wants to be an aspiring fashion designer. He wants to turn the band into a cool dressed group. They let him grow in that plot line.

WCT: Are you a big RuPaul Drag Race fan? I saw you are friends with Shea Coulee on Facebook.

KE: Shea and I went to school together Columbia College Chicago for one year. I am hoping to hang out with many of our friends while in town.

WCT: Did you dance with Shea?

KE: I remember rehearsing in a dorm room with Shea for a dance class. It was for a mock audition and we were all nervous. Shea said, "We got this!" That helped us all out with that vibrant positivity.

Shea used to call me "The Little Fortune Cookie!"

Andrew Lloyd Webber's School of Rock: The Musical melts faces now through Sunday, Nov. 19, at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. Look for tickets at .

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