Andrew Lloyd Webber's School of Rock The Musical: Annabel Gracey and Phoenix Taylor in Conversation

Note: This article refers to Saturday Music School, the former name of Junior Leeds Conservatoire. Author: Emma Greveson | 18 December 2017

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"I can't believe this is happening!" - Phoenix Taylor

"...when the application came through asking me to go to London, I jumped at the chance!" - Annabel Gracey

"Based on the iconic hit movie and with a rocking new score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, School of Rock – The Musical follows slacker and wannabe rock star Dewey Finn turn a class of straight-A 10 year old students into an ear popping, riff scorching, all conquering rock band!  Dewey poses as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school to make ends meet, and when he discovers his fifth graders’ musical talents, he enlists his class to form a rock group and conquer the Battle of the Bands. As Dewey falls for the beautiful headmistress, can he and his students keep this special assignment secret as they learn to fully embrace the power of rock?"

School of Rock - The Musical features music from the 2003 film as well as music written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glen Slater and a book by Julian Fellowes.

The show is now in it's second year in the West End and stars two ex Saturday Music School (SMS) students, Annabel Gracey and Phoenix Taylor. We have been lucky enough to have Annabel and Phoenix visit Saturday Music School, and on 9 December they joined in our SMS Showcase and performed 'Little Monster' by Royal Blood in true style.

We managed to catch up with Annabel and Phoenix and here is what they had to say...

You joined Saturday Music School at Leeds College of Music (LCoM) in September 2016 - what was your time there like?

A: I really enjoy LCoM as there are lots of exciting opportunities to develop existing skills and learn new ones. I particularly love music composition. Plus, everybody is so nice and helpful. I have definitely made a lot of new friends too which is awesome!

P: It was really good. All of the staff were really friendly and I was surrounded by great musicians. The older kids were always really helpful too.

What are some of the most important lessons you learned at SMS?

P: I learned how to compose better music. I learned how to work in a band and that was a really big thing, and I learned general musicianship. 

A: Always try your hardest no matter what happens, and don't be afraid to try new things.

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Why did you decide to audition for School of Rock?

A: Phoenix was missing a lot of SMS and I questioned why. When I found out that it was to attend School of Rock workshops, he encouraged me to submit an application. As the drummer's role 'Freddy' was for a boy I didn't hold out much hope of me getting an audition, however when the application came through asking me to go to London, I jumped at the chance!

P: I saw it on Children in Need and it seemed like something I would do. So, we searched on the internet and found a link for auditions. I made a video and I heard back the next day!

Do you feel that training at SMS helped to prepare for this role?

P: Yes! I had learned how to work in a band better and we work in a band a lot at School of Rock.

A: Definitely. A lot of improvisation is needed in the show. Band work at SMS in particular helped me prepare for this.

Annabel - your role (Freddy) was re-written to be a female part especially for you - how  did that make you feel?

I was so pleased that the School of Rock team re-wrote parts of the script for Freddy as a girl. I felt extremely lucky, thrilled and excited all in one!

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What is the best thing about performing in School of Rock?

A: The response of the audience, cheering for us night after night. There is an incredible amount of energy generated from hundreds of people watching in the audience which seems to transfer to us on stage. I love it!

P: Performing the finale where we get to really rock out performing Zack's song (Zack is my character). I really enjoy playing live. Performing in front of one thousand people is amazing!

How does it feel to be on stage in front of huge audiences in the West End? Do you get nervous?

P: It feels pretty cool. I don't get nervous, it feels normal to be performing especially as we are on stage so much.

A: When I started the show I did get nervous but the more shows I do, the less nervous I feel. I guess that comes down to experience. Plus, I love performing so I suppose that helps.

The production is a fantastic experience and also quite a big commitment. How do you manage to keep up with your school work, too?

A: We live in a house with other children from the show who come from outside London. My school is extremely committed to sending down work to ensure I don't miss out on my academic studies. We get home schooled every week day and follow a 'normal-ish' school day schedule, apart from when we are performing.

P: I live in a house with other children from the show, and whilst we're there we all have tutoring, and my school sends me work to do - so i never miss out on any of my studies!

What did you do for your audition for School of Rock?

A: I was asked to play a piece of my choice. I chose ACDC's Thunderstruck! I was also asked to sing a song in a capella and read a monologue in an American accent.

P: I sent in a video of me playing and then I had to play one of my songs on guitar, sing and read some lines. For the final auditions, I had to play and sing some of the songs from the show.

How did it feel when you found out that both of you were going to be taking part in School of Rock?

P: It felt amazing. I think I was more excited when I heard about Annie than I was when I found out for myself!

A: It was great knowing that we had both been offered roles in School of Rock and that we got put together in the same band. We get on well, so it was reassuring that I had a friend to share this experience with.

Do you have any advice for other young musicians who might be thinking of auditioning for a role in a West End production?

A: Practice as much as possible, push yourself and believe you can do it. When you feel ready, just go for it!

P: Keep practising and go for it. You have nothing to lose.

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