After selling out the St. James Studio in less than an hour for her album launch in July, Rachel Tucker returned to the larger theatre space in the same venue on the 13th of October to showcase her debut album and much, much more.
Following from the success of her previous concert, this night promised to somehow be even better than the launch preceding it. For those who know Rachel, you may know the running-joke about her being late for things, and in true form a technical hitch ruined her original off-stage entrance which she then took in jest and styled it out professionally with a “What a way to ruin an entrance!” comment.
Opening the show with “Friends” she was joined by her two backing vocalists – Jennifer Tierney and Stevie Tate-Bauer and a much fuller band than she had for her previous concert, which then smoothly went into a jazzy “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. The three voices moulded together beautifully matching the precise tone of the original Andrew Sisters only being at a quicker funner pace! Changing the pace of the show Tucker then sang “I’ll Cover You” from RENT, a track from the album and also a song from her first paid job when she was 19 playing lead role Maureen.
In between numbers Rachel would get a dialogue going not only in anecdotal styles but conversationally with the audience almost, joking about getting an upgrade from the studio to the theatre, the legroom (or lack thereof) in the front row – “Hope they’re not charging you extra for that!” which felt extremely comfortable and not forced at all, it helped those who weren’t as familiar with Rachel get to know her a bit more.
On Tucker’s album, “The Reason“, there is already a mix of musical theatre, pop and contemporary numbers, therefore this theme struck true in the concert as well. After the previous number, Tucker sang Nina Simone’s “Sugar in My Bowl” which we were then told it was important as it always reminded her of a family holiday that her, her husband and parents had gone on. After this personal anecdote she went on to sing “My Immortal” from the album, with stunning back-up vocals from Stevie Tate-Bauer. Sharing more with the audience, Rachel then told us about how that song reminded her of being “horrendously stood-up”. This story acted as a great link for her next number which she affectionately called her ‘handbag song’, Jason Robert Brown’s “Stars and the Moon”. I personally have seen Rachel perform this number in the past at various concerts or cabarets and each time she slips into character so effortlessly, it certainly is a song that requires such characterisation and without it loses a particular magic. Exuding more narrative through song, Rachel then performed “Climbing Uphill” from The Last Five Years, also by Jason Robert Brown, by this point the audience could be sure of her on-point narrative skill; she then revealed how she had been dismissed from auditions just as the character in “Climbing Uphill” had been, saying that audition panels in London were more polite in Dublin by saying “Next! Please,” rather than the blunt “Next!”.
From showing how she can take you through narrative, Rachel then proceeded to prove how she can get a room moving with the explosive “Stone Cold Sober” which can be found on her album, with the powerful backing vocals from Jennifer Tierney and Stevie. Bringing the pace back again, Rachel spoke about how she was performing from a young age, and specifically mentioned about the first time her mother showed her The Wizard of Oz and the influence Judy Garland had on her. Rachel sat herself down at the edge of the stage for a gorgeous medley of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow“, “Moon River” and “Smile” where her father Tommy Tucker joined her to add delicate bird-whistling to the last notes. They then sung together in the same way Rachel began singing as a child with the “Jolson & Judy Medley” that can be heard on the album. Rachel commented in the past that the only person she would want to duet with on her debut album would be her father, and that she did! The joy from both of them at performing together has to be one of the sweetest things, you can easily imagine the fun they must’ve had performing at cabarets together back in Belfast.
Ending the first act, Rachel sang “Defying Gravity”, the song she is probably most well-known for as she most recently completed a two and a half year stint as Elphaba in the musical Wicked, and is well acclaimed for it. Briefly before performing the number, she spoke about how her interest in Wicked came about and how she had tricked her mother and sister into a ‘shopping trip’ to New York after a cast member in the show she was then in told her and friend Stevie to listen to the cast recording of Wicked. She spoke of her promise to them then that she would be in the show, she would play that role (and play it she did!). Quite obviously this track is on the album, but still there’s nothing quite like hearing her perform it live. I did see Rachel in Wicked quite a few times and love the album arrangement just as much as the show’s original arrangement – she powers through this song building and building to an incredible climax. As she did in Jason Robert Brown’s songs earlier in the night with the characterisation, Rachel totally throws herself back into Elphaba when she performs this, completely enthralling all in the audience with her powerhouse vocals. When I say this I say it as my own opinion of course, but really I don’t think anyone can perform this song live quite like Rachel does. So much energy goes into it but it’s very meticulously controlled; she’s a professional and definitely professionally ‘blows the roof’ off of wherever she’s performing it, also leaving the audience deafeningly cheering by the end of the number.
Nothing seems to be able to follow “Defying Gravity” apart from an interval to process what you’ve just seen, so after a quick bit of time to recover and do the usual interval things (many a comment of “How amazing was that?!”) we were all back in our seats ready to be entertained and impressed further.
The second act began with an interlude followed by a powerful rendition of “One Night Only”, pulled from the album and backed by Stevie and Jen. You’d think the pace would maybe calm in the latter act but no, it seems Rachel strived to just go up and up. Talking again about another debut of hers, Rachel performed an incredibly heartfelt “No One But You” from the show We Will Rock You which was her West End debut.
Her influences play on her massively even nowadays, but it’s clear Rachel has been inspired by many from a very young age which is what she then went on to demonstrate. She spoke of Tina Turner and how watching her on the television had fascinated her as a child; she then pulled out of the bag a hilarious impersonation of Tina Turner. The movements, hair touches and flicks, facial expressions, the vocals, everything was so precise and she let the impression build before her, Jen and Stevie burst into an explosive medley of “Proud Mary” which seamlessly blended into “River Deep Mountain High”. While she was “shaking her tail feathers” and “talking to the audience in a singy-talky way” (actual quotes from her there!), Rachel continued to amaze us with something many of us haven’t seen her do before, and as she belted out the final note I think we were all very happy that Tina had taught Rachel to “belt her socks off”!
From one influence to another, Rachel spoke about the passing of her mother earlier this year, and sang “Gone Too Soon” in memory of her mother, accompanied only by Drew Lowe on guitar with a beautiful arrangement. A mellow moment in the act but a very touching performance to share with us, she sung the last note in the song softly but held it with such powerful emotion, you could hear a pin drop.
Having spoken about audition ‘fails’ from the past already, Rachel told us about an audition for a Beatles musical where she was turned down but performed one of the pieces she used – “Oh! Darling”, infusing another genre into her setlist. From past to present, Rachel then spoke about her 8 month old son Benjamin, I say spoke but really she proudly gushed a little bit about him and rightly so, and said about how she recorded the next song while still pregnant with him, the next song of course was a delicate arrangement of Ed Sheeran’s “Small Bump”.
Continuing with the anecdotal theme of the evening, Rachel spoke about a trip to London her and her friends had taken while working in a show in Bristol, and how they had ended up seeing Chicago (from way up in the gods!) and Chita Rivera in the role of Roxie Hart. This then created a link to the next number where she donned a jacket and cane saying it was for the ‘dance number’, many of us laughed to which she responded “No I’m actually serious!”.
At this point I should mention that one of Rachel’s best friends, Louise Dearman (currently Elphaba in Wicked) was sat at the end of the row I was in, very close to the stage, but had insisted she was only there to see and support her best friend. She lied. Rachel began “Nowadays” from Chicago, and two verses into the song Louise jumped out of her seat and grabbed a microphone and cane to join Rachel on stage, to rapturous applause. They genuinely then completed a dance break routine before going into “All That Jazz” while many jaws dropped at seeing “Tuckman” reunited on stage again. A lot of people say that the two are ‘stage soul-mates’, and it’s very easy to see why with the incredible chemistry they have on stage and how seamlessly they work together. This was definitely the biggest surprise of the evening and was absolutely brilliant, there’s a certain magic in the air when these two ladies share a stage.
Rachel then wow’d the audience with Sondheim’s “Being Alive”, you would think that throughout the show a performer would tire and the quality may falter slightly but this was totally not the case – Rachel seemed to just exude energy and only grow in strength throughout the show, performing gave her more power than ever.
Before performing her final number Rachel gave thanks to her band consisting of Drew Lowe on guitar, James Lawrence on the trumpet, Phil Donnelly on the bass, Nick Polley on drums, Barney Ashworth on the keys, Jennifer Tierney and Stevie Tate-Bauer supplying gorgeous backing vocals and Liam Holmes giving extremely successful musical direction.
Tucker then went to close the show with “Cabaret”, effortlessly settling into character for it. The absolute highlight of this number was when instead of saying “I’m going out like Elsie,” she altered the line to “I’m going out like Rachel!” with such glee in her voice as everyone cheered loudly enough to rival the standing ovation she received at the end of the number. Having departed the stage at the end of the number, the applause continued and of course she returned to more cheers.
Obviously she wasn’t going to finish without belting out the title track of the album – “The Reason”, backed sublimely by Jen and Stevie. Jokingly when she finished this number she said “Oh go on then! One up my sleeve,” to continue the encore with the incredibly apt “I’m The Greatest Star” from Funny Girl, a song that I bet she wishes she could’ve sung to every person who incredulously turned her down at auditions in the past!
“I’m The Greatest Star” quickly blended into “Don’t Rain on My Parade” to create an epic finish which was greeted with absurd applause, I think it’s safe to say that no one can actually rain on Rachel Tucker’s parade after that performance.
This year I’ve been very lucky to attend many incredible concerts, and every time I attend something I believe that it can’t top whatever I last saw but this? This night was incredible. the whole structure of the show was impeccable, a huge amount of credit needs to go to the whole team for putting it all together so well. From the light-hearted fun to the more serious sentimental values given, there was always a story behind the songs and what’s more inspiring is that Rachel was happy to tell us about them, even the most personal events she willingly gave context to explain just how important they were to her.
Even if someone had walked into the St. James Theatre for this concert not knowing who on earth Rachel Tucker was, I’m 100% they would’ve walked out not only impressed by her vocal prowess but feel like they actually knew her a bit – the show had genuine personality which oftentimes solo-concerts don’t, you get to see the person but not actually know them and hear why they’re singing whatever they’re singing. Throughout the night Rachel made us laugh, cry and appreciate the incredulous amount of talent she has.
It was most certainly a night to remember, and I really look forward to seeing how Rachel’s career as a solo-artist flourishes, because she’s off on a very positive start.