‘School of Rock’ star Gianna Harris teaches us what it takes to make musical theater

Gianna Harris plays the ukulele, the bass, the cello, the piano, but when she sets foot on the Bass Concert Hall stage this week for “School of Rock,” people will know her for her voice. She plays shy Tomika, aka “the voice.”

Her grandfather taught her the ukulele; she picked up the cello at school, and then the piano, before picking up the bass when she was in the show’s Broadway cast as Shonelle, one of the backup singers. Gianna, 13, was on Broadway for a year and half before the touring show came about and the chance to take on a bigger role.

Gianna Harris, center, plays Tomika in “School of Rock.” Matthew Murphy

Which is better, the 2003 movie starring Jack Black and directed by Austin’s Richard Linklater or the musical?

Well, of course, the musical, she says. She really loves that you get to see the scenery changing. “The songs are more exciting to watch,” she says. “Everyone is singing live.”

Gianna, who is from New Jersey, audition for one of three Broadway musicals with kids in them: “Annie,” “Matilda” and “School of Rock.” She was secretly hoping for “Matilda” when “School of Rock” called.

“I really wanted to sing,” she says. “Musicals are the easiest way to getting into singing.”

She’s thinking practically. She states that only 2 percent of kids who want to be a pop star become a pop star, but how many get to star in a musical on Broadway? Also not a lot.

“I love going into work every day and being able to do the songs I love,” she says.

Her favorite song, “If Only You Would Listen Reprise” is toward the end. It’s when the kids are trying to convince their teacher to do the battle of the bands.

The craziest thing that’s happened to her on stage was when her headband snapped in half and she had to do the first act of the show wearing the broken one.

The craziest thing that’s happened to the cast was when almost half of the kids were out sick with the flu, including herself. Some of the kids left standing where playing two roles, and one of the boys had to play a girl.

While the show is an anthem to kid empowerment and reminds parents to let your kids do music and have fun once in a while, she says, the cast actually has a lot of discipline.

Every day they wake up and have breakfast, then go to tutoring for four to six hours. Sometimes they squeeze in a cleanup rehearsal to check something that they need to work on. Sometimes they find something local to do such as a playground or they go rock climbing. “Sometimes we just sit downstairs (of the hotel) and jam,” she says.

They usually are at the theater about an hour and 10 minutes before the show for hair and makeup. In the girls’ dressing room, they go through the warmups. They warm up their voices and their whole bodies and get their energy up. “We’re fooling around to get excited for the show,” she says.

They don’t go too crazy, though, unlike their characters. “Back stage is not at all like the show is,” she says. They have to have discipline, she says. “We have to listen to our guardians and make sure we’re focused.”

Her guardian is her mom, who is on tour with her. Her dad and older and younger brother are back in New Jersey, but they’ve been able to come for visits throughout the tour.

It’s all worth it, though. “I like that I get to sing every single day and act and dance and just be myself on stage,” she says.

“School of Rock”

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive

Tickets: $30-$120

Information: texasperformingarts.org


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