Monday, 31 March 2014

Big Interview: Rachel Tucker - "I still can’t believe I'm going to Broadway"

Rachel Tucker is one of the West End's biggest stars and is currently preparing to make her Broadway debut in musical The Last Ship by 16-time Grammy winner Sting and Tony winners John Logan and Brian Yorkey.

Directed by Joe Mantello, who also directed Wicked, the production opens at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre on 30th September 2014 following a pre-Broadway tryout in July at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre.

Rachel was a semi-finalist on I’d Do Anything, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s television search for an actress to play Nancy in a West End revival of Oliver. After leaving the competition Rachel joined the West End production of We Will Rock You, starring as Meat and understudying Scaramouche. 

Following a successful run Rachel joined the West End production of Wicked playing Elphaba. She starred in the iconic role for nearly three years and over 1,000 performances, making her the West End’s longest serving Elphaba. In 2012 Rachel won the West End Frame Award for Best Performance of a Song in a Musical for her performance of the show's anthem, Defying Gravity.

Rachel left Wicked in October 2012 following the announcement of her pregnancy, and in March it was revealed that she had signed to Big Hand Recordings in a joint venture with Elate Studio and would release her debut album in August 2013. The album, The Reason, has received both public and critical acclaim. The Reason is a very personal album, featuring popular songs from Rachel’s career and childhood, as well as handpicked numbers which have special meaning to the West End star.

Rachel’s other theatre credits include: Ida in Farragut North (Southwark Playhouse), Mary in Tonight's The Night (national tour), Maureen Johnson in Rent (Olympia Theatre, Dublin), Sally Simpson in The Who's Tommy (national tour), Estelle Genovese in The Full Monty directed by Jack O'Brien (national tour), Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (Lyric Theatre, Belfast) for which she received a 2008 TMA Theatre Award Nomination for Best Performance in a Musical, Grace Power in To Be Sure, Kelly in Merry Christmas Betty Ford and Amy in Have A Nice Life (Lyric Theatre, Belfast). Rachel also played Meg Giry in the workshop of Love Never Dies and co-presented The Friday Show opposite Eamonn Holmes for the BBC.

Alongside her theatrical career, Rachel and her husband Guy Retallack run The Bridge House Theatre which is described as 'South London’s most exciting arts project'. The theatre, which is preparing to celebrate its first birthday, has built up a strong reputation. Guy has directed a production of Macbeth which runs at the theatre until Saturday 19th April starring a handful of highly experienced West End stars.

I recently caught up with Rachel to discuss The Bridge House Theatre's production of Macbeth, why auditioning for a dream job in New York was the scariest day of her life, how she's feeling about her Broadway debut and why Defying Gravity is her favourite song...

Can you believe that The Bridge House Theatre will soon be celebrating its first birthday? 
No! It feels like we did our first comedy night three or four months ago! It’s pretty amazing; we’ve done so much in such a short space of time. It just takes time to get things going. It’s about building it up and getting the interest going and it’s about realising what it takes to get an organisation going and appreciating how business really works! 

Over Christmas you staged a hugely successful sell-out production of A Christmas Carol and now you’ve put on Macbeth. What made you choose the play? 
Well, we – the creative team – discussed what would be good for our local area and we wanted to do a Shakespeare play. Guy’s very in the know with all the Shakespeares and he’s loved Macbeth all his life and has always wanted to do it, so this was a great opportunity. He’s very passionate about which plays we put on. 

Macbeth at the Bridge House Theatre

Macbeth is a play which can be interpreted in so many different ways. In the past year I’ve seen Jamie Lloyd’s gruesome production with James McAvoy, as well as a more traditional staging at the Globe. What can audiences expect from this production? Obviously it will be a far more intimate experience! 
It’s a black room and a very small intimate space which straight away sets a really dark atmosphere. It’s very exciting. Guy didn’t want to do something new and modern just for the sake of it. We discussed it and did a lot of research. We compromised and came up with a nice mix of not trying too hard to be a theatrical Shakespearean experience and also not trying too hard to be too modern. It came quite organically – it just happened. We’re really delighted with the feel of it! 

I love that the majority of the cast have CVs bursting with musical theatre credits. Was that a conscious decision? 
Not necessarily, but Guy has worked on quite a lot of musical theatre in the last few years and really loves working with musical theatre people. He’d had lovely experiences of working with musical theatre actors – they absorb direction and go for it a bit more, they’re more willing. I mean, not in every case, but he definitely gets that from them. I think they just like to experiment a bit more. Musical theatre actors are so used to having it split up with music and acting but this time they just have to focus on one and they’ve been very willing to throw themselves in the deep end. 

I think it’s so important because often casting directors won’t cast musical theatre performers in anything outside of musical theatre which is ridiculous! 
There is a bit of snobbery towards musical theatre actors. I guess it is understandable when you have got RADA students and so on, but from Guy’s experience with musical theatre performers, obviously including myself - which makes him a little bit biased [laughs] - he knows we can act and follow direction really well. The cast are really lovely and have great experience behind them. 


How do you find performing in the theatre? Is it scarier performing in such an intimate space? 
It’s really scary, really scary! It’s so intimate and you can see everybody in the audience. You can see if somebody isn’t enjoying it as much as you want them to, but I think audiences love the intimacy as well and having West End stars right at their fingertips. It’s very casual, not formal at all, which is what we love about it. You’re able to be yourself, make mistakes and have a laugh without being judged too much and having that huge West End pressure. It has a lovely fringe feel but a very professional standard and that’s what we really wanted to deliver – a very high standard of acting, music and comedy in South East London. There’s just nowhere around us that does anything like this. 

I obviously have to mention that you are leaving us for Broadway to star in The Last Ship! Has it sunk in yet? 
No [laughs]!! Really no! I just went to Belfast to say au revoir to my family for a little while. You know – I just can’t quite believe it! I’ve been emailing our company manager back and forth regarding flight and so on and that is when it really hit me. When he asked, “When would you like to fly out?” I was just like ‘this is totally bizarre!’ Speaking to people in New York is crazy! It’s a wonderful crazy and I’m so excited about it! We’ve got a lot to organise this side of the pond, your whole life has to change. Our whole house is changing and we’re having to sort out the Bridge House with our producer who is going to look after it while we’re not there. Guy’s still going to co-produce through Skype and the world of the internet. 

Rachel as Elphaba
Photo Creidt: Matt Crockett
There was a long gap between you finding out and it being officially announced. How did you find not being able to tell anybody? 
Oh god – it was very hard! My family knew and were sworn to secrecy, they get called The Belfast Kelly-graph Telegraph, that’s my maiden name, because they just can’t keep a secret. They kept their mouths shut and I just put it to the back of my thoughts. It was a bit like when I was pregnant – I just didn’t think about it. But then I had to discuss it with Guy and arrange how we were going to sort everything – it was very hard! 

A really nice link with Wicked is that it’s being directed by Joe Mantello. Is that just a coincidence? 
Erm, I’m sure it’s helped but the honest truth is that I don’t know! There was no bias and I believe that regardless of whether I played Elphaba in the West End for three years or not, if I wasn’t the right girl I wouldn’t have got the part. Obviously having worked with Joe before in the past might have helped! 

Did you have to audition in New York? 
Yes I did, and it was probably one of the scariest days of my life [laughs]! So I auditioned for Sting here in London and Joe couldn’t make it so it was recorded on video. Then, about three weeks later, they said they wanted to fly me over and I was just like ‘I can’t believe I have to fly across the world to be seen for a dream job’. It was the scariest day of my life… but then it wasn’t – it was really, really weird and I was very ready for it. I was confident with the material and thought it was very well suited for me. There are many shows you go in for and think you’re right for but don’t get the part – because somebody else is better for the part, that’s why jobs don’t work out. People say “Oh why haven’t you played this role” and I say “well I’ve auditioned for it, but I haven’t got it”. It just felt really right, even in New York. I was petrified but when it came to the audition I was so ready for it. 

Rachel as Meat in We Will Rock You
We Will Rock You recently announced that’s it is closing after twelve years. You made your West End debut in the show so it must be very special to you? 
Yes, it was such a fantastic year. I love the show and have seen it about twelve times; I absolutely love it and will see it again before it closes. I just love its energy and vibe. I’m gutted and don’t know why it’s closing! I’m gutted for everyone there who are losing their jobs! 

Last question, imagine you had to move to a desert island and could only take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three would you take? 
Here’s the thing… I’m actually not a massive musical theatre fan! I don’t even think many people know this [laughs]! That’s why most of my album was pop. Although I don’t sit and listen to pop either, don’t get me wrong - I’m not massively into my pop charts! Does it have to be musical theatre? 

I’m afraid so! 
Ok, let me think… we might be here for quite some time! Right, I have to say that I think I would need to take ‘Defying Gravity’ (from Wicked). Not because I’ve been in Wicked and played the part, just because it’s a fantastic song! Amazing lyrics and tune, it’s so inspiring and moves me when I hear it live. I adore the piece of music. When people asked, “What’s your favourite song in Wicked?” I used to try and avoid saying “Defying Gravity” because even though it stands out as the big number in the show and it’s the one everyone is waiting for, I always used to try and make it as part of the storyline. I wanted to keep it authentic to what it was saying and why it’s there – it’s not just a musical theatre classic, genuinely it is a stunning piece of writing and that’s why I love it! 

Do you know what song I adore? ‘Send In The Clowns’ (from A Little Night Music). It just moves me again and again, the lyrics are stunning. I played that part (Desiree Armfeldt) at college; it’s very simple but beautifully written and so effective. That’s my second one so I can take one more… my final one would be… goodness me! Umm… let me think! Probably a Barbra Streisand song… I would take ‘Don't Rain On My Parade’ (from Funny Girl)! Those are three songs I would never grow bored of listening to! I happy with those!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)


Macbeth runs at the Bridge House Theatre until Saturday 19th April 2014.
Please visit www.bhtheatre.co.uk for further information and tickets.

Please visit www.thelastshipbroadway.com for further information about the Broadway production of The Last Ship.

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