From Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel:
You might not have heard of Jack Suarez Kimmel—yet. But the 11-year-old performer is quite a celebrity at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (TSTI) in South Orange, where his family has been members for three years and where he and his younger sister, Liana, attend religious school. Liana also attended TSTI’s preschool where their mother, Aleida, has been teaching since 2014.
Kimmel, a West Orange resident, just concluded a six-month tour as a cast member of the national touring company of “School of Rock – The Musical,” the Andrew Lloyd Webber production based on the popular movie. He is a swing, meaning he must be prepared at any moment to play one of five roles that he has learned. He is now preparing for his next role as a sixth grader in middle school.
The young musician studies guitar at the School of Rock in Montclair and heard about open auditions for the show through a fellow student there. “She thought that since I play several instruments and sing that I should try out,” said Kimmel. “I went to the open audition in New York last November, sent in a video and got a call back. In late January, I found out I was cast as a swing.” In addition to guitar, he plays electric bass, upright bass and is a self-taught drummer. The cast members play live instruments on stage—there are no backing tracks—and they are supported by a small rhythm pit with three guitarists, two keyboard players, bass and drums.
Kimmel started rehearsals in Austin, Texas in February. As in the movie, every character has a job. Two of Kimmel’s are musicians—guitar player Zack and drummer Freddy—and the other three are ensemble roles—stylist Billy, security guard James and technician Mason.
His debut came in early April, in Buffalo, N.Y. as Billy. Since then, he’s performed in about 20 shows. Being a swing is hectic, given that the performers are usually told they will perform in a show that same day. During one show in California in early summer, he got the call during intermission to go on in Act 2 for another performer who wasn’t feeling well.
In spite of the last-minute nature of his roles, Kimmel has thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“It’s definitely changed my life. I didn’t know I could memorize five characters and I’m very proud of myself for doing that.”
The cast does eight shows a week and performed in 17 cities across the U.S. during Kimmel’s time with the cast. He said playing in Los Angeles was particularly special because they got to meet the movie’s star, Jack Black, actress Becca Brown, who played Katie in the movie and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
A dedicated musician, Kimmel has been playing guitar for three years. He practices every day and often used the time in his dressing room to play guitar when he wasn’t rehearsing his characters. He has also shared his music skills with the TSTI community, having DJ’d a few preschool events and birthday parties for synagogue members’ children. His mother is proud of his musical achievements as well as his willingness to give back to TSTI.
“We joined TSTI because we had several friends who were members and we loved the community. And, as an interfaith family, we felt welcomed there since day one,” said Aleida Kimmel.
Her son hopes he can find other auditions, whether in theater, television, movies or commercials but he said that, “Other than that, I’ll be a regular kid in middle school, doing homework.” He will continue with guitar lessons and would like to get together and jam with some of his cast mates from the Tri-State area.
“Music is my life,” he said, “and I’ll never stop playing, no matter what.”
Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (TSTI) is a dynamic, inclusive Reform congregation that offers numerous ways for members to connect with and celebrate being part of the Jewish community and the world. Welcoming Jews by birth or by choice, interfaith, traditional and non-traditional families, and children of all abilities, TSTI provides lifelong learning and enriching programs for all members through a full complement of religious services, early childhood and religious school education, cultural programs, and activities that foster connection, engagement and community outreach in a joyful, judgment-free environment. TSTI is located at 432 Scotland Road in South Orange, drawing members from Maplewood, South Orange, West Orange, Short Hills, Millburn, Livingston and surrounding areas. For more information, visit www.tsti.org.