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Education Station: Cleveland's 'Piano Man' screens his original musical for CMSD students

Did the 350 high schoolers enjoy Mike Petrone's "Caesar the Musical"? The reviews are in, and they are rave!

CLEVELAND — Some thespian fun happened for Cleveland school students studying Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” By now, we’ve all heard of the smash Broadway hit “Hamilton”. Well, a local musician had a similar idea – creating Caesar the Musical. He recently screened it in front of its toughest audience - 350 high school students! 

When Mike Petrone created Caesar the Musical, he didn’t think anyone would get a chance to see it. He finished writing and composing the play just before the pandemic hit. With stages shutting down, Petrone – also known as Cleveland's Piano Man at Johnny's Downtown where he works – decided to make videos of the actors, one at a time, in his attic.

"I would just bring that actor in and put it on the teleprompter and have they sing it or do it. It was crazy. And the fact that it worked is beyond me. Cause honestly, I didn’t think it was going to," says Petrone.

And, boy, did it work! The videos were made into a film that was submitted to festivals.

"And then I started winning awards. That is the crazy part I never saw coming," said Petrone.

350 high school students from Cleveland Metropolitan School District who had already read Caesar the book were recently screened the play at East Tech High School in Cleveland. CMSD’s manager of College Prep received a grant to create an act-by-act study guide for the kids to read while watching the musical.

So… did students like it?

“The music was even…. (singing) Caesar! The music was freaking catchy. I loved the song. As a theater major it definitely showed me some different things and different ways to express myself,” said Kaile Henry, Senior at Cleveland School of the Arts:  

“I’m just like bobbing my head. Like, you know this is actually fire, you feel me? It’s like good. Usually, I don’t like musicals so like me saying it is really good, it was fantastic," said Marco Perez, Senior at Max S. Hayes High School.

After a little Q & A with the cast, the kids were given a writing challenge. $500 goes to the student who submits the best original essay, poem or rap by May 10th. Petrone hopes students find inspiration in his Shakespearean creation.

“Shakespeare is tough for adults. The notion of this was since it’s told through music it might be more fun and they might get a little more. And it seems that’s what happened,” said Petrone.

There are plans to release “Caesar The Musical” this coming fall. And, by the way, Johnny’s Downtown - where Petrone works - donated lunch for all students... and, no, it wasn’t Caesar salad.

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