It is with a heavy heart that we have learned of the passing of our good friend Kay Mellor. Leeds born and bred, Kay was a pioneer of northern drama and real-life stories, going where no other female writer, director, or actor had gone before. We’re deeply proud and humbled to have been chosen as the home venue for her two stage premieres, Fat Friends The Musical (2017) and Band of Gold (2019) – both of which were huge success stories, as was everything that Kay turned her hand to. The hearts and thoughts of our theatre family are with her family, who we are also blessed to call friends of our theatres.

The School of Rock cast on stage with their instruments

School of Rock Cast Interview

Ever wondered what it’s like working with 42 pint-sized prodigies? The adult cast of School of Rock tell all.

Written by Simon Button.

They say never work with children or animals, but the adult cast and creatives of School of Rock are thrilled to be sharing the stage with so many talented youngsters.

They are so inspiring to a new generation,” raves Jake Sharp, who stars as renegade music teacher Dewey Finn in the first ever UK and Ireland touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash hit musical. Lots of them have previously come to see the show and now they’re in it. The energy that they bring, the natural energy that young people have, is amazing and it’s a complete pleasure being on stage with them. It keeps the show real and raw all the time.”

Having previously played Dewey in the West End, the actor also feels School of Rock is the perfect show for right now. “It’s completely joyous,” he says. “It’s inclusive, positive and optimistic, which is what we all need after everything we’ve been through recently.”

Associate director Chris Keys, who has been with the show since it opened at the New London Theatre (now the Gillian Lynne Theatre) in 2016, couldn’t agree more, saying: “There’s such a feel-good factor to it. With theatres having been closed for so long, it’s great escapism. It’s fun, it’s funny and it really demonstrates the sheer power of music, for the characters in the show and also for giving audiences such an entertaining evening out.”

A boy playing guitar alongside Jake Sharp playing Dewey Finn

Credit Paul Coltas

Jake Sharp playing Dewey Finn standing on a bed with a guitar surrounded by kids kneeling around him

Credit Paul Coltas

A child actor playing bass alongside Jake Sharp as Dewey Finn playing guitar

Credit Paul Coltas

The cast features 19 adults and 12 youngsters rocking out at each performance – with the latter rotating across the tour and standbys always waiting in the wings, hence those 42 children on the roster. And the young rockers play all their own instruments completely live, highlighting Lloyd Webber’s passion about music in general and how it enriches the young in particular.

One of the messages he would always instil when he was talking about this production initially was how he wanted the government to support music and the arts,” says Chris Keys, “so that every child has the opportunity to pick up an instrument, whatever their background and financial resources. And one of the key themes of the show is how much connecting with music and the arts can empower us and can give us the release that sometimes we’re missing. The joy that comes from music – you see it on stage and you feel it as an audience member.”

Assembling the young cast for the UK and Ireland tour was a lengthy process. Because of COVID-19 restrictions they were asked to send in video footage followed by Zoom auditions. Then when restrictions were lifted there were in-person sessions.

And as Chris notes: “You have to look a bit outside the box for this show. It’s not your usual stage school kids. Once you’ve seen they can play the instruments you have to nurture the other aspects that are required – the singing, the acting and the movement. It throws up all sorts of challenges but at the same time it’s so rewarding when you see the children make such huge strides from the first day of rehearsals to opening in the show.”

Having joined School of Rock in 2018 as a cover for the leading actor, Jake Sharp went on to alternate the role in the West End and now he’s headlining the tour. The actor, whose theatre credits also include MAMMA MIA! and Sleepless, is thrilled to be revisiting the character of Dewey Finn, saying: “He’s so playful, so childlike and so driven. Playing him is incredibly freeing. Because of the benchmark that Jack Black set, whatever you do – no matter how silly it is – still fits in with the character.”

Jake isn’t worried about being in Jack’s shadow. “Obviously he’s incredible in it but I haven’t rewatched the film since getting the job. You have to put a little bit of him in there, otherwise I think people might be disappointed, but there’s never a conscious effort on my part to imitate him. And if people think I’m anything like him that’s the biggest compliment ever.”

After all the lockdowns and restrictions, he’s excited to be back on stage. “To have a break, then come back gives you a whole new lease of life. The audiences are loving it and its been the best experience.”

Jake Sharp as Dewey Finn

Jake Sharp (Dewey Finn). Credit Paul Coltas

Rebecca Lock, who plays school principal and Dewey’s eventual love interest Rosalie Mullins, is equally excited to be performing again. “Having been stuck in the house for God knows how long, to be able to see other places and different faces is incredible. You count your blessings every day. And audiences really are loving it. I’ve seen people in the street after the show and they’re almost tearful, going ‘We’ve needed this so much’.”

The actress is a musical theatre stalwart with a CV that includes Mary Poppins, The Phantom of the Opera, Heathers and Curtains. She’s particularly taken with School of Rock because: “It’s wonderful being surrounded by all these talented children. Just seeing them pick up their instruments in rehearsals and be brilliant was mind-blowing. It’s a great showcase for all that young talent and it’s such a heartwarming story, not to mention really funny. There’s a love story in there too. It has something for everybody.”

Matthew Rowland is another musical theatre devotee, having been in the likes of Taboo, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Waitress and the Joseph revival. Starring as Dewey’s long-suffering roommate Ned Schneebly, he feels one of the show’s key messages is to follow your dream. “You see that in the young characters, as well as the adults, finding the confidence to do what makes them happy, in spite of maybe their parents not seeing or supporting that. At the end the parents get to see how they shine and it’s Dewey who brings it out of them. So yes, I do think it’s about finding your passion and just going for it.”

Making her professional debut in the School of Rock tour, Nadia Violet Johnson, who plays Ned’s domineering girlfriend Patty Di Marco, adds: “It’s so nice to get to know them and have fun with them. The standby kids have to be around in case something happens with the kids who are on stage, and it’s a nice time for them to let off some steam.”

School of Rock is at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 9 April 2022.

Book tickets here.

The cast of School of Rock on stage

Credit Paul Coltas