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South Valley Journal

Band teacher rocks his role in ‘School of Rock’

Apr 30, 2022 10:46AM ● By Jet Burnham

Real-life high school band teacher James Densley plays the role of a musician who pretends to be a school teacher in “School of Rock” at Hale Centre Theatre. (Photo by Leave It to Leavitt.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

In the musical “School of Rock,” Dewey Finn, a crazy, passionate, wannabe rock star, pretends to be a school teacher and organizes his students into a rock band. James Densley, who is playing the role of Dewey in Hale Centre Theatre’s production, is an actual school teacher—the band teacher at Mountain Ridge High School in Herriman.

MRHS junior Greg Olsen said Densley is similar to the character Dewey, who is unfailingly passionate about music.

“He's very energetic all the time,” Olsen said. “Densley is very passionate about music and his enthusiasm as a band director is contagious.”

Densley said the role does feel very familiar.

“Being a teacher in real life, specifically teaching band and music, I feel the same synergy and energy when I'm pretending to teach music to these kids on stage,” Densley said. “I try to be fun and really engaging and interactive with students in real life, just like I do on stage.”

Densley also has a special connection to the show.

At age 10, he auditioned to be one of the kids in the 2003 “School of Rock” movie, starring Jack Black. He got a callback but was not cast in the movie. However, the experience became a special memory for him and his mom.

A performer herself, Densley’s mom surrounded him with music, encouraged him to audition and to pursue his passion for music, always believing he would be famous someday.

Twenty years later, Densley finally made it into “School of Rock.” As he sang the lyrics of the opening song, “The dreams that I had since the day I turned 10 will be finally coming true,” he realized that his dream, which began with his first audition at age 10, had come true.

Densley’s mom passed away in 2020, and though she will not see him in the show, he said she has affected his experience in the show.

“The show has been surprisingly emotional and moving,” he said. “I'm playing this crazy wild man, making people laugh, but there's just poignant moments in the story that are so touching and moving and meaningful to me.”

He said Dewey is an inspiring character.

“He loves rock and roll so much that he unintentionally makes bad choices, but also, very unintentionally, moves people,” he said. “He helps the kids when nobody listens to them.”

In his role as Dewey, Densley believes in his students. In real life, Densley is a huge support to his students.

“He is a very fun teacher who really cares about his students,” said Olsen, a percussionist in the MRHS band. “His classes are my favorite part of the day in school. He’s just a great person to be around and an excellent mentor.”

Densley has been a teacher for six years, the last three spent building a successful band program at Mountain Ridge High School. The marching band won the state championship last fall and was a finalist in the Bands of America Western States Regional Championship. The jazz and concert bands earned superior ratings at this year’s Festival. With Densley on drums, the band played in the pit orchestra for the school play in March. In April, the indoor percussion band took second place at the state competition.

Densley is not the only real-life teacher on the stage for this production. Riverton High School’s drama teacher Clin Eaton is in the ensemble of this, his seventeenth HCT production, playing the role of a teacher and of a parent in the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast. Eaton has 22 years of experience as a teacher in real life and is also a father.

While he plays a father who doesn’t understand his son’s passion for music, Eaton said he is the opposite kind of parent in real life.

“I forced my children to do music,” he said. “Both of my daughters started piano at age four, and they both do singing, dancing and acting. They don't have a choice when their dad's a high school drama teacher.”

Eaton is impressed with both Densley and Bryan Hague, who plays Dewey in the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast, the guitarist in the Monday/Wednesday/Friday cast, and is the instrumental director for the show.

“They're both really, really funny and they're great with the kids,” Eaton said.

Additionally, Mountain Ridge High School’s choir teacher, Kelly DeHaan, is the Music Director for HCT’s “School of Rock,” which runs from April 4-May 28.

You can see Densley rocking as Dewey Finn Monday/Wednesday/Friday and as the drummer Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday—that is, except for the final few days of the run. Densley is taking the MRHS bands on tour to Southern California at the end of May.