Meet Nat and Rachel: Winners of the Jo Reyes Bursary

jo reyes bursary winners

We catch up with the two winners of our first Jo Reyes Bursary for Musical Theatre on their love of musicals, inspiration within the theatre world, and their advice for students wanting to get into musical theatre.

Natalie Davies - Jo Reyes Bursary Winner

Tell us a bit about your background in musical theatre. When and where did you start, how did you get into it?

I got into musical theatre when I was 10 years old, not long after I moved to New Zealand. The town I moved to had a Youth Theatre company and they were putting on a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. My mum made me go even though I told her I didn’t want to. I did the audition, absolutely terrified, and was told I was in the “kids chorus”, and the rest is history.

But I think my love of musical theatre really started the year after auditioning for a production of Les Misérables, knowing that there was only one part for a little girl. I was cast as Little Cosette and that definitely changed my life. Up until that point I’d never experienced being moved by music, really brought to tears. I cried myself to sleep for two weeks straight after that run ended.

I did 2 or 3 shows a year with that company from age 10-19, I did everything from Sound of Music to Next to Normal. It became my life, the centre point around which I planned my whole year. I knew I wanted to come back to the UK to study musical theatre since I was about 14. So that’s what I did.

natalie davis singing

Why musical theatre? What do you like about it?

There’s nothing else like it. I remember my first singing teacher asking me, “why do we sing?” (in a musical), and I just stared back blankly because I genuinely had no idea what the answer was. And she said, “we sing because the stakes are so high that speaking is no longer enough”. And that really stuck with me. Imagine being lucky enough to have so much emotion inside you that all you can do is sing.

Musical theatre has given me so much, but maybe most importantly it’s given me my two best friends. It provided an outlet when I was younger. Some place where I could grow and learn and be myself and do what I love. And it still does that. I learn every time I step into a studio and I love that.

What is your favourite musical and why? It can be screen or stage production!

For sentimental reasons I always say Les Misérables because that was the show that made me love musical theatre. And of course because it’s a brilliant piece of theatre. But putting all that aside, I would have to say The King and I. Even though now the story is quite antiquated, and maybe even problematic in the themes, but it was written in the 50’s and we can now look at it with different eyes. The music is just so incredibly beautiful, Rodgers and Hammerstein were truly geniuses. I recently saw the Broadway production at the Palladium and it was just magical.

Who inspires you within musical theatre? Any role models?

Absolutely Kelli O’Hara. I adore her. Her voice is something that everyone should hear in their lifetime. It’s just effortlessly beautiful. I saw her in the King and I a few weeks ago and I was in tears before she got the first full line of “Whistle a Happy Tune” out. She’s never given up. She was nominated for a Tony 5 times before she won, and in her speech she said “I love what I do, and I don’t need this but now that I have it, I have some things to say”. The love of her job completely shows in her work. And she’s doing it all while having two kids! How amazing is that?

natalie davis in les miserables

Nat as Little Cosette in Les Misérables

Where do you see yourself going from here? What are your future aspirations?

I still have dreams of stepping onto a West End (or Broadway...) stage as a leading lady. And I don’t think I’ll stop trying until I know deep down that I’ve exhausted every option, opportunity, and talent that I have. And I’m not even a little bit of the way there yet. That’s the name of the game right? Never giving up. My dream is to be in Les Misérables. Give me the shortest ensemble line there is, I don’t care. I’ll happily sing “and in a bed” 8 times a week for a year.

Do you have any advice for aspiring performers, perhaps for those who would love to try musical theatre but are too nervous to start.

Do it. Especially if it scares you. I have 5 siblings, most of whom have very good voices. But my older sister is not what you would call a singer. Not at all. But it frustrates me to no end when people don’t sing because “they’re not good”. So what? Singing is one of the most joyous things in our world. And everyone can sing, you don’t have to be Barbra Streisand to sing out loud and proud.

We get so bogged down in life with things we have to do like work, paying bills, and making deadlines. If you can have a little bit of escape to enjoy yourself, and musical theatre is what that does for you, then you should absolutely do it. For aspiring performers, be open to learning everywhere you go. You need to be a sponge. You don’t have to take every lesson or piece of advice on board, but as a performer you never stop learning. You’ll never be “done”. And for goodness sake make sure you keep up your dance! Giving up ballet at the age of 6 was the dumbest decision of my life!!

Rachel Clifford - Jo Reyes Bursary Winner

Tell us a bit about your background in musical theatre, when and where you started, and how you got into it.

From what I know I have always loved musicals! I would sing and dance to Barney and all my favourite Disney musicals everyday. The first stage production I saw was Annie and I fell head over heels for live theatre! I have been involved in amateur groups from around age 12 - when I finally built up enough courage to go to a weekend class and have made it a part of my studies ever since. For my 13th birthday I was treated to a weekend in London, where I saw Wicked for the first time and that was when I knew I wanted nothing else.

jo reyes bursary winner rachel clifford

Why musical theatre? What do you like about it?

What I love about musical theatre is there's always a new challenge in every show. Not only do you have to be strong in three artistic disciplines - you may have to fight a revolution or tap dance for seven minutes without a break! There's always something new to learn and it's extremely exciting. I love the combination of acting, singing and dancing as I get to explore different ways to express what the character is feeling.

What is your favourite musical and why? It can be screen or stage production...

My favourite musical at the moment has to be Hamilton! I fell in love the moment I heard the soundtrack and seeing it live took my breath away. It's so intelligent and well thought out - I am in awe!

rachel clifford in hairspray

Rachel as Penny in Hairspray

Who inspires you within musical theatre? Any role models?

Everyone! Every time I watch a show, I religiously buy a programme to look at all the performers and think if you can do it, so can I! Anything is possible and everyone who is working hard at their dream is an inspiration to me.

Where do you see yourself going from here? Any future aspirations?

I am going to keep working on getting better and stronger as a performer, and I would love to be in a touring company one day.

Do you have any advice for aspiring performers, perhaps for those who would love to try musical theatre but are nervous to start.

The first step is always the hardest, but it's never as scary as you think! I would say join a class and concentrate on having fun!

Find out all about Jo's story, her passion for musical theatre and journey with City Academy.

Our Jo Reyes Bursary is now open for 2019! Open to all new students, simply submit a video of yourself singing two contrasting songs. All details on our musical theatre classes page.


Join Nat and Rachel on their musical theatre journey by taking our Musical Theatre classes for Beginners.

Already taken a Musical Theatre Beginners course? Continue to learn on our Musical Theatre Improvers course.

Ready to audition? Check out our Musical Theatre Studio Company next auditions.

Want to work on acting through song and solos? Join our Acting through Song course.

Learn songs and choreography from the stage with our choice of workshops.

Work on your singing with our Musical Theatre Singing Level 2 and Level 3 courses.