An Interview with Jake Sharp from School of Rock, the Musical

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock, the Musical is coming to The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham next week.

Based on the cult film starring Jack Black, School of Rock follows slacker Dewey Finn as he turns a class of straight – A  students into an ear-popping, riff-scorching, all-conquering rock band! As they prepare for the Battle of the Bands, can Dewey make them embrace the empowering message of rock?

I was delighted to get the chance to speak to Midlands-born actor Jake Sharp about his role of Dewey Finn ahead of next week’s show.

Tell me all about the show! What can the Birmingham audience expect from School of Rock?

It’s very close to the movie, if you’re a fan of the film you’re not going to be disappointed – it stays reasonable true to it and has some of the key memorable bits. The beauty of the stage show is that it is all done on stage live, so all of the bits that you see of the kids playing, that is all genuinely live on stage in front of you – they are playing those instruments. In the film it’s cool that they are playing, but when you actually see 10 – 13 year-olds playing live that takes it to a whole new level. It’s longer than the film, you get more into the life of the children and of where they’re from. It gives a really nice balance. Dewey comes in a bit like a bull in a china shop in the way he comes into this school and disturbs the peace. He’s so high-energy – he’s like this big kid from what we would see, but not necessarily how the children who go to the Horace Greenwood school will see him. He’s more immature than they are. By getting a back story from their lives and seeing what kind of pressure they’re under, the stresses and what their parents expect from them I think it really gives the story more heart than the movie and you can really see the progression of the kids. It resonates with audiences in that you can look at your own life and think ‘am I being creative?’ or ‘am I being as playful and joyful and just enjoying being with other people, learning new things and going out of your comfort zone’ as these kids do in the story, and that’s the joy of it.

You play Dewey Finn in the show, and as you’ve said he comes in like a bull in a china shop. How have you been able to get into character. 

I’m not going to lie, it’s reasonably close to me – it’s not a particularly far-fetched bit of casting. When I first saw the film I didn’t register that I was similar to him, but as I have got older you do see similarities. I like to think that I’ve got my head screwed on a bit more, but it’s not too far away and I loved the idea that he’s what could be seen as a bit of a loser, but actually he’s just so passionate about things, so passionate about music and playing live, about collaborating, about being in a band. He champions everyone is what I really love about him and it can be seen as naivety but it’s something that I often say I wish I had more in myself – that kind of pure passion and will go to any lengths for live music that he really wants to do. The rest of his is slightly dishevelled, slightly overweight and not your typical leading man and that appeals to me massively and resonates with so many in the audience. That’s one of the beauties of that part – that dads love him for one reason, the moms love him for another reason, the kids all love him for another reason. How many people have said they have never seen anyone be represented on stage like that – he doesn’t care what he looks like, he’s never thinking about what people think of him, and that is a great thing to champion. 

Have you found any challenges when taking on the role?

Yeah, plenty. He’s so high-energy. Jack Black is unbelievable, an absolute hero of mine and has become more so since I have been doing this, because the way he plays his character is so high-energy, so fast-paced, straight away you know it is a Jack Black character. He got to do it on film, so they got to go “cut” and he got to sit down and have a drink of water, but what we do is live and it’s consistent – as soon as we get on stage Dewey doesn’t leave aside from to go and change some very sweaty shirts and try and get some water inside of him and have a shower in the interval. That’s been a challenge fitness wise and stamina wise because it is so athletic and very physical. We don’t necessarily look like athletes and that’s a challenge. Everything that goes with it – the voice, the singing is really intense and high energy and that can take a toll. The best bit about the job is also the hardest bit – 90% of the show is Dewey and the young actors and that brings up challenges in itself – joys and amazing experiences, but after all they’re only 12 years old and you always have to be ‘on.’ There’s no time to switch off and that’s exhausting, but that’s also the best bit about it – it’s constantly fresh and new and exciting and it reminds you that you need to be the energy of those children, and they have energy in abundance!

Dewey plays the role of a classroom teacher – is there any teaching experience that you’ve had or any teachers that you’ve had yourself that you have taken inspiration from?

I actually trained to be a teacher before I became an actor – I trained to be a primary school teacher for three years. I don’t really remember school that well – I have a terrible memory – I remember certain primary teachers but not any from high school. I didn’t do anything creative so perhaps that’s why, I didn’t do any drama, I didn’t do anything that is necessarily now all of my passions. There are plenty of adults – I grew up playing sport, playing cricket and my dad would be in a team and I would play with those, so I spent a lot of time with adults who were my friends who don’t talk to you like a child, so I kind of took that into my own way with children, and definitely with Dewey that is what he does. That’s the way he sees them – they’re on a level with him at all times and all he wants to do is teach them about the world. His whole thing is about ‘sticking it to the man’ and not being put in a box and that’s the coolest part about him. He really opens their eyes and I’ve had many people that were like that when I was growing up.

How did you become an actor?

I came to it really late in terms of how old I am now. I’m just 34, and it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I started to do anything. I did a bit of am dram (amateur dramatics), I did some stuff at the Alexandra Theatre as part of an amateur dramatics society. I didn’t do anything at school, I had no real interest. My brother – Cameron Sharp – is in the ‘biz’ and he’s been in musical theatre for years. He played Oliver when he was 7 years old and I was kind of involved on the periphery, just going and watching shows, getting to know the cast and used to think it was really cool to go to the parties, but I had no desire to be on stage. I can remember it was a similar time when I decided not to be a teacher and told my Mom and Dad that I was going to go and audition for the am dram, and they were completely gobsmacked. They still say even now that the most nervous they have ever been was me singing to the am dram. I stopped teaching and something changed in me and I did a few am dram things and realised that I loved it, and I was very comfortable on stage. It wasn’t until we went to the Alexandra Theatre and did a version of ‘The Producers’ and it was the first time that I got to do a comedy part on stage, and it was like, ‘this is what I need to be doing.’ I went and trained and fast forward a few years, here we are!

It must be a testament to the natural talent that you have!

I know that I’m very lucky in that this part is almost like my life has been method acting for this part. I trained to be a teacher, I was in a band for years as a kid and in my teens – I’m very fortunate that this part is here at this time… I’m completely blown away by what these really talented musical theatre performers and what they do. In fact, we’ve just done this show for BBC at the arena in Manchester and I was so out of my depth – performers like John Owen-Jones were just some of the best things I’ve ever heard. (Note: Jake and the School of Rock cast are performing in the National Lottery’s Big Night of Musicals – shown on BBC One on Saturday 29th January). In my little box, I do my bit well and I’m very fortunate that I have a gift for what I do but I worked really hard at my skillset and my skillset just happens to be necessary for certain roles. There’s a lot of chance and luck there – even in our own cast sometimes I’m just “how am I even here?”. My mum always tells the story of how even when I was in my late-teens I couldn’t even go and order something from a desk. I was so shy and hidden away – I wanted to be in the shadows all the time. 

It must be so great to be back on stage again! What is your favourite thing about being on stage?

I personally think it has been completely different since we got back on stage. There’s a whole different appreciation both on stage and off. Obviously we’re delighted that we have got work, and that we get to do the thing that we love and express ourselves and to not feel useless like many felt during the pandemic. There has been a different feel in the audiences. We’ve just reopened Edinburgh after their restrictions over Christmas and everyone who works there is amazing. There’s a feeling of joy and the audiences have been incredible – they have really taken to it and resonated with it because everyone has been locked away. The nature of our show is quite hopeful – it champions everyone, there’s nobody excluded, and it’s not pointing fingers or trying to be pretentious… Because they’re young actors there’s a feeling of hope of what the future can hold after a terrible couple of years, so there’s a real feeling with everyone, audiences included that this is a new chapter and life is amazing. 

You guys must have really busy days! What does your day look like when you’re on tour. 

I’m slightly different – we’ve talked about the nature of the part and I can easily need to sleep until mid-afternoon just to try and rest my voice. Even now I can feel that I sound like Barry White.

That’s never a bad thing!

It’s only a bad thing if you need to do high-tenor American singing! 

My day is quite an odd one – I’m always suffering from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but I have the beauty of what’s coming in the evening. I set my alarm for 11.00am to get up and get lots of water inside me, some food, go back to sleep, have more water, have more food, and I tend to stop eating at about 4.30pm because the show is so physical. It’s all fuel, get to the theatre and do massive warm-ups so you’re stretched and ready, do the show and the cool down before bed. It’s a repeated thing and I’ve been doing it for a few years now and doing it in the West End as well, so it is an odd life. We’re in Edinburgh right now and all I want to do is go and explore, but I also know that I need to save my energy for tonight. It’s one of those jobs that is nowhere near as glamorous as people think, but it’s unbelievable when you’re doing the job. It’s not all fancy parties – saying that I’ve never been to a fancy party so it’s no fancy parties!

I can imagine that your job is very similar to business people who travel around the world but only see the inside of hotel rooms. Where are the best places you’ve visited?

It is kind of like that! Because we do weekly touring sometimes I think “Is there any point in taking this out of my suitcase or shall I just leave it in my case?”. Nobody sees me in nice things but because of covid I guess people aren’t really going out too much anyway. It’s been amazing to see the different cities, I think that’s the think you end up saving your energy for. We went to Belfast which was amazing – the audiences were crazy and the place has got so much culture and history, that was one of those places where you walk around and think I could see myself spending time here. Edinburgh’s the same. Manchester was superb, the audience were raucous, it’s a different level. We did The Grand last year and that was amazing because that is a local theatre for me and on a personal level that was really cool. It’s one of the best things – the travelling is tiring and you would like to just click your fingers and just be there, but the fact that we get to do this in all the different places keeps it really fresh. The theatres are different with different types and styles of audience, so it keeps it exciting and makes it go really really fast. 

A friend of mine trained at a stage school and once told he that he was asked to pretend to be an egg frying in a pan. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever had to do either in a workshop or on stage?

I went to East 15 and it’s notorious for the unusual things that they do. I was ‘reborn.’ When I say I was reborn there were other people in my birth there were other people playing ‘the womb’ and ‘the cervix…’ It was quite a funny one to speak to your Mom and Dad about afterwards… I also had to be an embryo for a whole other lesson.

Note: I burst out laughing. There was a slightly more detailed discussion about the roles he played in other people’s ‘rebirths.’ Probably my favourite answer so far…

What’s your favourite musical to go and watch?

Rock of Ages. It meant so much to me because my brother – it was his first job out of drama school – he went and joined the West End cast before it closed, so going to see him as alternate for the lead guy. He went on once a week and the first time he went on stage as the lead in a West End show, just graduated, I can’t even describe. 

I saw that show!

And then he did the tour as well. It’s been a big part of our family life. Same with School of Rock, he was in the original cast, so when I joined he was part of the cast so we got to share a dressing room for a year which was amazing. On the West End with your brother for a year, it was crazy. 

Dewey is a rock god enthusiast. What would be the ultimate rock band you would like to perform on stage with?

If I could just walk on stage with Led Zeppelin – I wouldn’t even have to do anything – I would just sit at the front facing them and maybe they could just give me a triangle. Just the idea, for me they are the be all and end all. I was brought up on them, there’s the Midlands connections and I once bumped into Robert Plant in a pub and it’s the only time I’ve ever been starstruck. 

Birmingham and the West Midlands has a massive cohort of talented young performers who want to be on stage, doing what you do. What’s your best advice for them?

The advice I always give is be nice. Get rid of the idea that you need an ego. When you start working you realise that the people get employed off the fact that they were cool to work with and are nice people. Try everything – have a go playing the drums, try tap-dancing, anything that is not something you have a desire for just give it a go because you don’t know whether or not it could be your thing. It could become an extra selling point that you didn’t know could be your unique selling point. The amount of people you hear about who got their foot in the door because they could play the flute – it had nothing to do with the fact that they are unbelievably talented, it just gave them a foot in the door. Try everything – my only regret is that I didn’t do all of those things. I look back and think that I would have loved to have gone to a dance class to see whether I liked it. It can only strengthen you, it will never make you weaker. With all the other things of being nice, hard work, talent, who is on your side they are the bits that make you stand out. 

I can’t wait to see the show! School of Rock, the Musical will on on stage at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham from Monday 31st January – Saturday 5th February 2022. Find out more and book your tickets here!

One thought on “An Interview with Jake Sharp from School of Rock, the Musical

  1. Pingback: Press Review: School of Rock at the Alexandra Theatre | Suzie Speaks

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