Are Italians keen on musicals? Lillo and our own School of Rock give us an answer
Lillo, alias of Pasquale Petrolo, is a multifaceted Italian artist: he’s well-known for the comic duo Lillo & Greg and he’s also a radio host, a TV presenter, an actor and a humorist.
He’s currently playing the starring role in the Italian production of School of Rock directed by Massimo Romeo Piparo who, in the last months, has also stage-managed Jesus Christ Superstar and Mamma Mia.
These days you’re playing the part of Dewey Finn in the School of Rock musical. I went to see the show and I believe that the role perfectly suits you. Do you think so too?
Well, I have a lot in common with Dewey Finn: he’s immature, childish… Kind of like me! I like the story a lot, and I also love the way this character has been conceived and his personal growth.
Can you tell us something about your background in musicals? You played The Blues Brothers with Greg — with whom you’ve also written many funny songs — and you have also set up a band called Lillo e i Vagabondi (Lillo and the Tramps).
I’ve always been into music and it’s always been important for both Greg and I. However, I wouldn’t exactly define myself as a musician: I simply play the guitar and I have fun with music, so I try to use it in my theatrical and comic work whenever I can. I have this band called Lillo e i Vagabondi with which I play rock and hard rock. I don’t think of it as work, but as food for the soul and a way of enjoying myself.
Going back to School of Rock, what do you think makes the musical special compared to the movie with Jack Black and Joan Cusack?
Well, the events of the story are the same. In the musical though, more attention is given to the problems that children can face, so special songs have been written for them.
Of course there are many children in the cast, but also the audience is very young. What’s it like working with kids and being watched by so much youth?
Children are, of course, the main audience of our musical and I feel completely at ease among them, both as my public and as my colleagues. They have extra energy and never get bored, so they add more vitality to the show, and they can already do great things at their young age.
Children have extra energy and never get bored, so they add more vitality to the show.
Since you worked in many shows, what’s your take on Italians and theaters? What kind of shows do Italians like?
I must say that I admire Piparo’s project because he’s working to bring Italians to the world of musicals. In fact, we’re not keen on musicals as much as other countries. We go to attend one if it’s on, but we don’t see it as the event: it’s simply one show among the others.
As a matter of fact, Italy doesn’t have its own Broadway or West End with long-running musicals and shows every day. We only have shorter productions that, for some time, go on tour around the country. Why is that, according to you?
You’re right about Broadway and the West End! And also, while there a title is enough to attract thousands of people, here in Italy we need someone famous in the cast: for example, I was offered the part of the protagonist also because my name could help bring more people to theaters. Since I’m a fan of musicals, I’m honored to be useful in this way.
After the first dates in Rome, School of Rock has just begun its tour: therefore, we’re going to bring the musical to people all around Italy. That’s because, unlike Broadway and the West End, people don’t automatically come to the big city to watch the musical of the moment.
Although Italian musicals exist — for example, Aggiungi un posto a tavola and, in a way, Rugantino — the Italian public is only now starting to get to know this international genre: we are more used to legitimate stage and musical comedies where speech is the protagonist. Those musicals that are usually sung from beginning to end are more linked to the English world and language and they’re also difficult to translate, because Italian has a different musicality. In a way, School of Rock is closer to the Italian stage tradition in that it has songs, but it also contains many lines.
Thinking about the future, do you think that young people can find their way in the world of theater?
I think that there are prospects for the future because if theater is properly treated, it will never die. While cinemas may change, because movies are also accessible and enjoyable at home, theaters are irreplaceable: live performances with actors standing in front of you are only possible in theaters.
If theater is properly treated, it will never die.
Apropos, in Italy we’re very lucky because we have many beautiful and historic theaters all around the peninsula, even in the smallest towns. Is the government supporting culture and enhancing our heritage?
It has to! Without art and culture there can’t be a healthy society: violence, most of the time, comes from ignorance. Theater then, as a fundamental part of culture, helps societies.
Do you have other musicals lined up?
Not currently! I took part to this production because I particularly like the genre and working with Piparo was a pleasure. Without a doubt, it’s a beautiful experience that I’d do again.
I went myself to watch the show in Rome. Lillo’s performance is dazzling, funny and lively, and all the cast is great. So, if you happen to be in Italy, check the tour dates and go see it: a good time is guaranteed!