A Fresh Spin on Dewey Finn: Thomas Gjere Rocks OutAug 29, 2022 04:13PM ● By Kara Schweiss
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Thomas Gjere laughed when he described what inspired his interest in acting.
“I wanted to be an actor as a kid,” he said. “Ever since I saw Home Alone.”
Gjere didn’t become the next Macaulay Culkin, but he did start acting in local theater productions—and he was hooked.
“My parents tell me they knew the moment it happened because I had this big, dramatic scene and big, dramatic exit. Everyone applauded,” Gjere said. “My parents were in the crowd that night and it was, ‘Well, there he goes!’”
As Dewey Finn in the upcoming Omaha Community Playhouse production of School of Rock, Gjere will lead a cast of 30 that includes 14 young performers and musicians. In the 2003 hit film, Jack Black played the character of Finn, who cons his way into substitute teaching at a private school and turns his pupils into a youth rock ensemble, hoping they will win a battle of the bands so he can pocket the prize money.
“The thing that makes Dewey work—because let’s be real, there are a lot of things about him that people might find irritating—and what makes us root for him, is his passion, and his genuine love of the music. For him, it’s rock ‘n’ roll, and he wants people to love it just as much as he does,” Gjere said. “He and I share that particular trait, that genuineness and that joy. I want everyone to have a blast with School of Rock. It’s a great show and it’s so much fun.”
Omaha Community Playhouse Artistic Director Stephen Santa, who is directing this season-ending musical, said Gjere is the right fit for the challenging role.
“This character is almost like running a marathon every night; they’re onstage for pretty much the entire two-hour show and they sing 11 songs and play the guitar live onstage. You need to find that person who can do it all—who understands the comedy of the role, and can play the guitar, and can sing, and act,” Santa explained. “Thomas is that special performer who has all of those skills and is going to be able to successfully bring them to the stage in a new and exciting way. [The role of Dewey Finn is] iconically Jack Black. You don’t want to see someone doing an impression of Jack Black. Thomas is making it his own and putting his own fresh spin on it.”
The young musicians in the cast include two guitar players, a drummer, a keyboardist, and a bass player.
“What’s so exciting about School of Rock onstage is that you actually get to see these kids playing their instruments live. It certainly does pay homage to the movie, and all of those iconic lines and moments that you remember from the movie are going to be inserted into the musical. But it’s presented in a fresh perspective and with updated comedy elements,” Santa said. “We really hope this is going to inspire future musicians.”
Including the actor/musicians, the youth actors in the cast, ages 10-14, all sing and dance as part of their roles. Although Gjere also performed onstage at a young age, he’s impressed by his young castmates.
“They’re so inspired, it blows my mind,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what they do.”
Gjere himself earned a minor in theater in college, majoring in education with the goal of becoming a teacher. After graduation, however, he ultimately returned to performing.
“That’s where I’m happiest,” he explained. “Acting forces you to look at things from a new perspective and really examine that different perspective. If you’re paying attention and allowing yourself to be open, it’s going to affect you and it’s going to change how you approach a lot of things."
“It’s changed who I am as a person in incredibly positive ways. I’m more confident in who I am, in my abilities,” Gjere said. “I used to be so reserved that I was almost invisible.”
Today he's appearing in an array of roles that have run the gamut. In recent productions at Omaha Community Playhouse, Gjere has portrayed Robert Kincaid in The Bridges of Madison County, Jamie in The Last Five Years, and the bank manager in Once. He has also acted at BlueBarn Theatre, portraying The Duke of Cornwall in King Lear, and Justin in Heroes of the Fourth Turning.
“I wouldn’t necessarily want to be remembered for a particular role. I would rather be more recognized for my dedication and my work ethic,” he said. “I hope to continue performing as I have. I’ve had a lot of really wonderful opportunities and I’m grateful for every one I’ve had the chance to take on. So if that continues the way it has, I’d be pretty happy with that.”
Visit omahaplayhouse.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.