By Carl Corry
It’s 11 p.m. Monday, and while most 12-year-olds are fast asleep, Brandon Niederauer of Dix Hills is just coming down from the natural high of performing on stage in front of hundreds of people on Broadway.
Niederauer, the guitar phenom who rose to prominence after appearing on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” two years ago, has since played with the likes of the Allman Brothers, George Clinton, Dr. John and the Neville Brothers.
Now he’s starring as Zack in the musical “School of Rock,” which is in previews until Dec. 5 and opens on Dec. 6 at the Winter Garden Theatre.
“This is amazing,” Brandon said. “Playing to [hundreds] of people every night is so much fun.”
And tonight, he’ll be returning to national TV as backup player on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
Brandon’s father, Gary, said they had just found out Monday.
“It’s a real honor,” he said.
“School of Rock” is Brandon’s professional acting debut, and he beat out thousands of kids for the part.
Brandon found out that he landed the part in August while playing basketball with friends.
“I was about to shoot a three when my father came out and said, ‘You made it in the ‘School of Rock,’” Brandon said.
The West Hollow Middle School seventh-grader had previously gone through the audition process and was chosen for a workshop in the spring.
But that process wouldn’t have happened without the help of Joe Iconis, a musical theater writer and performer whose credits include the TV show “Smash.”
Iconis, at the invitation of his brother, West Hollow teacher Philip Iconis, the director of last year’s school production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” agreed to be the show’s musical director.
Brandon was in the cast, and it was Joe Iconis’ job to teach the students the songs.
“It was pretty evident from the get-go that he was an extraordinarily talented human being. The same way I would speak to him is the same way I would speak to the professional actors and musicians I deal with every day.”
So when Iconis learned that “School of Rock” was looking for talented kids to be in the show, he shot off an email to casting director and friend Merri Sugarman to suggest she take a look at Brandon, calling him “a child prodigy on guitar and absolutely incredible.” He added, “His hair is also great.”
Iconis sent along contact information and a video of Brandon performing.
Gary Niederauer soon got a call for Brandon to audition.
“I’m so thrilled for him,” Iconis said. “It’s such an amazing thing. Being in the theater world, it’s so hard. So much of it has to do it with luck. It’s so nice that someone makes it on their merits, even if it’s a little kid. I’m totally happy for him … I was the smallest, tiniest part of something that’s very large.”
Brandon calls the guitar his “zen.”
“I don’t get tired when I’m playing the guitar. I don’t get stressed. You can play the guitar any time. The guitar is my best friend.”
Since rehearsals began in September, Brandon has been getting tutored three hours a days and has maintained a 98 average, said his father, who picks up his schoolwork each Monday.
Come January, he’ll return to West Hollow, except on Wednesdays, when there are matinee performances. Brandon now splits time between Dix Hills and an apartment in Manhattan, where he’ll stay four nights a week to accommodate the show’s schedule.
For Brandon, the show is particularly meaningful because it was the movie version that inspired him to start playing guitar.
In fact, “the character that I’m playing now is the one that got me started in real life. It make me emotional.”
To his friends and family who have helped and supported him, Brandon said: “I miss you guys. I hope to see you soon. And I hope you come to the show.”