Friday, 27 March 2015

Big Interview: Rachel Tucker - Back From Broadway!

Rachel Tucker recently returned from Broadway where she created the role of Meg Dawson in Sting’s new musical The Last Ship.

Directed by Joe Mantello, the show ran in New York at the Neil Simon Theatre for four months following an out-of-town tryout in Chicago. During the run Rachel starred opposite Sting when he joined the cast in an attempt to boost ticket sales. 

Rachel is currently preparing to return to the St James Theatre with her new solo concert show Back From Broadway for two performances only on Sunday 19th April. 

She has also been cast in Lindsay Posner's revival of Communicating Doors by Alan Ayckbourn which begins performances at the Menier Chocolate Factory on 7th May.

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. 

Next Rachel joined the West End production of Wicked as 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 and released her debut album The Reason, playing sell out concerts at the St James Studio and Theatre. Rachel played Meg Giry in the workshop of Love Never Dies and received a TMA Theatre Award Nomination for Best Performance in a Musical for her portrayal of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (Lyric Theatre, Belfast).

Her 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 (national tour), Grace Power in To Be Sure, Kelly in Merry Christmas Betty Ford and Amy in Have A Nice Life (Lyric Theatre, Belfast). 

Yesterday I caught up with Rachel about her return to London. We discussed her upcoming concerts, what drew her to Communicating Doors, the closure of The Last Ship and how she found New York life plus much, much more…

A lot has happened since the last time we spoke! You’re back from Broadway and about to do some more concerts at the St James Theatre. The last one was incredible – what have you got up your sleeve this time round?
[laughs] Well… you know what… I feel like I set the bar quite high with that last concert! I’ll be honest with you, I am a bit worried about people’s expectations – will it be as good or not? I was worried I wouldn’t be able to come up with enough ideas of different things to sing and people to sing with and so on. But Andrew, it’s just happened again naturally. I stopped worrying about what I did in the past and have tried to concentrate on what else I would love to do. I had to remind myself that it’s a great opportunity to sing and act the stuff that I have never done but always wanted to do! It really is exciting for me! But obviously I’m not going to tell you all my secrets [laughs], I want to keep it all a nice surprise for everyone! I always like to have fun at my gigs, there may be one or two special guests…

Last time I sat there and wondered how it was possible for one person to belt out so many songs in one evening… but this time you’re doing a matinee as well! How are you feeling about that?
I know… I’m going to be exhausted! This is the other thing, I’ve got to watch my set list and make sure I’ve got moments of calm and things to do between songs. My set list is definitely going to help with that – but I wouldn’t want it to be too full out anyway, it can’t be like ‘bang bang bang bang’. 


Your influences are so unique – from musical theatre and beyond. Do you find it hard to bring everything together into one show? 
Well it takes a lot of rehearsal. I’ve had five rehearsals with my musical director so far. We both go with ideas and songs and then we might realise two songs go great together so we’ll mash them up a bit. Just by sitting and talking and singing through songs things come together, we didn’t get anything out of two or three of those rehearsals so it’s important to have enough time. It takes a lot of time!

Last time you performed a surprise duet with Louise Dearman who had been sitting in the audience before jumping up and joining you onstage for a Chicago number. You must have had so much fun secretly planning that?
It was so exciting – I loved it [laughs]! You know when you have an idea and you just know it’s going to work? Lou was so up for it and thought it was hilarious. Obviously I was already up onstage and she was sitting, listening to me and was probably very nervous waiting to be called up to sing which nobody knew about. She had to be dressed similar to me, so I told her to wear a black dress and we had rehearsed a few times with the choreographer and MD. We were well prepared, had a final rehearsal before and then did it on the night – I love doing those kinds of surprises.

It has just been announced that from May you will be starring as Poopay in Communicating Doors at the Menier Chocolate Factory. What drew you to the role?
Well I instantly heard a cockney, good willed, wannabe prostitute – a wannabe dominatrix prostitute. She had a cockney English accent to me but is trying her best to be as posh and polite as she possibly can. She just really stood out to me because the character is obviously nothing like me and I love that this girl actually has a big heart. I got to the end of the script and I sobbed! I cried as I sat there reading it because there is a beautiful twist at the end and I love how Alan (Ayckbourn) has used time travel – the sliding doors moment… the ‘what if’. I love how he’s made time travel actually seem possible. I’m very, very excited to be a doing a straight play. 

Sting and Rachel
And you’re working alongside an incredible cast!
I know! I am delighted with the cast! It’s so exciting to be doing something I know I can sink my teeth into. 

You went from Wicked to a smaller play at the Southwark Playhouse and now you’re going from a major Broadway musical to another more intimate piece. How do you find playing these intimate theatres?
I always say that it doesn’t matter! To be honest with you Andrew, the more intimate venues are scarier for me and a lot of actors say that because the audience are very close to you and you can see them – it’s a little bit more intimidating. Apart from that, once you’re on stage no matter if you’re on Broadway or at the Chocolate Factory or anywhere a stage is a stage. Once I get through the rehearsal process and know what I’m doing I could be anywhere in the world and it wouldn’t matter. Obviously the hype of Broadway is phenomenal and the people I was working with were so different, but actually once I’m on stage saying my lines I could be on any stage anywhere in the world. That’s what I love about my job. The reality of it is that it’s a job; I’m just getting up there and doing my job. 

We obviously have to discuss The Last Ship. I’m so gutted that I didn’t get to see it!
Aww I know, a lot of people were planning to come over but just missed it too. Everyone obviously had great intentions of coming over but it’s just one of those things when a show doesn’t last for as long as people want it to. It unfortunately just didn’t run the way they expected it to. It was a beautiful show, everyone adored it. It had heart and it had soul and it had comedy, the songs were new and different.

So many people tell me they want the opportunity to originate a role in something brand new. How was that process for you? What was it like being able to be creative and take on something so different?
I loved it, I absolutely loved it! It’s what most actors want to do – they want to originate and create a role of their own. But it was also a lot of pressure Andrew! Pressure to make the script work and songs come alive. After a day’s rehearsal I remember always sitting and thinking, ‘I know they’re liking what I’m doing which is great, but how can I still make it better?’ because there were no boundaries. I used to sit and look at my script and my song and sit at the piano and try out a slightly different melody because I could – there were no limits. Having the time to really literally indulge in a script and a musical song was just so, so good… but also exhausting – there was a lot of pressure. I loved it, but to do another creative process like that again is a huge ask.

Rachel in The Last Ship

And how did you find New York life?
It was crazy because we lived right in the city in Manhattan. Here we’re out in the sticks in lovely Penge, we’re not used to the constant traffic, the constant men digging… people shouting in the street. We really, really had to get used to all that [laughs]! I wouldn’t live in Manhattan again, not even if you paid me. But it’s the same with London, if I could afford to move to where I’m sitting right now in Piccadilly Circus I wouldn’t! Even if you paid me I wouldn’t want to live in central London, I don’t want to be that involved in the city. So it was a bit crazy, especially with a two year old and a dog [laughs]. There wasn’t much greenery for the dog and he wasn’t allowed off his leash. I was always at work so didn’t get to see much of the city. It’s like London, once you live here you don’t do the touristy things – I still haven’t been to The Tower of London! And I didn’t really do many touristy things in New York. It is similar to London, but there’s definitely a lot more people, a lot more tourists and it’s a lot more manic. It’s more chaotic and less organised than here. I missed London – maybe just because of the familiarity – it was tough getting to know the city.

So looking ahead are you thinking about going back to America, are you back in the UK for good or are you just going to go with the flow?
Oh gosh who knows?! I really don’t know! We haven’t any immediate plans to go back, but we would love to if the right job came along. I mean now that they know of me over there it has definitely opened up more doors. It’s much more possible for me to get invited out for shows and jobs. I don’t know what’s going to happen yet, I’m about to do this play and Guy (Retallack, Rachel’s husband) is very busy from now until about October. We’re loving being home and the Bridge House (the theatre Rachel and Guy own and run in Penge) is doing so well – three shows which started there have now transferred; two are on tour and one has gone to Germany! We’re doing really well so let’s see what happens!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Rachel Tucker plays the St James Theatre with Back From Broadway on Sunday 19th April 2015 at 3pm and 7pm. Please visit www.stjamestheatre.co.uk for info and tickets.

Communicating Doors opens at the Menier Chocolate Factory on 13th May (previews from 7th May) and runs until 27th June 2015. Please visit www.menierchocolatefactory.com for info and tickets.

The Last Ship cast recording and Rachel's debut album The Reason are both avaliable on iTunes. Visit her official website: www.racheltucker.co.uk

Read our previous interviews with Rachel from March 2014 & August 2013

Photo Credit 4: Joan Marcus

2 comments:

  1. Yey!

    What a lovely interview Andrew!
    I remember Rachel being a total delight when I chatted to her last year!

    I really look forward to seeing Rachel in action at the Menier! I am also glad that business seems to be booming at the Bridge House!

    I was LUCKY enough to see her in The Last Ship as it coordinated with a trip to NY! She was truly fantastic in the role of Meg, honestly and truthfully amazing - which I guess in some way you can hear reflected in the cast recording but was quite the experience in real life. I hope she gets another chance in NY, although next time maybe she should commute from New Jersey - PLENTY of dog walking space and much less drilling in Newport/Hoboken!

    Anyway - I wrote up my thoughts on The Last Ship at the time if you fancy reading

    http://www.officialtheatre.com/blog/broadway-reviews-2014/
    (you may have done already!)

    I hope it gets a London airing in some way, in what ever capacity as the story is good and the music is fantastic.

    Good luck to Rachel and thanks again Andrew for the interview!

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  2. All other photos Caitlin McNaney for Broadway.com

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