Three and a half years ago I first saw Wicked in the West End, and it was Rachel Tucker’s performance as Elphaba that became part of the reason I went back to see the show so many times. Even though she left the show in 2012 I’ve found myself at almost everything she’s done since simply because she’s one of those performers that you just can’t get enough of!
I’ve wanted to visit Ireland for a long time now, and as Rachel was doing this concert as well as one of my favourite musicals playing in Dublin it felt like the perfect time to finally visit the Emerald Isle. Rachel was born and raised in Belfast and on the 18th of July she performed her concert at the MAC Theatre there.
Arriving at the theatre you could feel the buzz from the excited audience waiting in the foyer to go in, and really it felt like a family party more than a concert, everyone seemed to know each other because of Rachel and living in Belfast!
Rachel opened the show with a medley of songs related to Broadway and New York, a nod to her recent time spent in New York City to originate a role in Sting’s musical The Last Ship, and was met with huge cheers from the crowd.
In her concerts Rachel doesn’t like to just go from song to song, she always adds stories and anecdotes in between to give context to what’s been an influence in her life and career. It was especially lovely to hear these stories, some which I’ve heard before, at this concert because I was sat near many of her family members who would add comments here and there (her dad and sister in particular!).
Following on from her Broadway medley, she spoke about the lie she told to get her mother and sister to go to New York with her purely because she’d heard of Wicked and desperately wanted to see it, after seeing the show couldn’t stop crying because she wanted to be in it so much. She promised her family that she would be in the show one day, and it wasn’t too long after that that she was called to audition for Elphaba. Unfortunately at that point she didn’t get the role, and her mother simply said to her “Rachel, that’s life.” The perfect segway for her to perform a stunning rendition of That’s Life.
Continuing with the audition chat Rachel then talked about how gruelling the audition process is, and went on to sing Climbing Uphill from The Last Five Years.
Having talked about work a lot, Rachel moved on to discuss her family and the different ways her younger life influenced her career nowadays. She told us how her and her siblings would argue over which musical they could watch and she’d very rarely get her choice but when it was her turn it would always be Calamity Jane; she followed this with a little Doris Day medley of Secret Love and The Windy City – complete with fake horse riding and dancing!
She then told us about the first time she saw The Wizard of Oz and how inspired she was by Judy Garland, and sang a medley of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Moon River and Smile which merged together so beautifully. From the audience her dad added the birdsong whistles when Rachel struggled with them, and eventually joined her on stage at the end of the medley to then perform their Jolson and Judy duet which features on her album! It’s always so sweet to see Rachel performing with her dad, as that’s how she first began singing and she always says how much he has supported her in this way of life even from a young age.
More family influenced songs performed in the first act were Mr. Bojangles for her dad, and a hilarious rendition of Second Hand Rose which I believe she said her aunt first taught her!
“It was the best thing, because I’d achieved what I wanted. And I’m going to take you to this next section to end the first half, to one of my favourite shows ever.”
Wicked has been a huge part of Rachel’s life, she spent two and a half years playing the role of Elphaba and even though she was pregnant for the last few months of her contract that didn’t stop her from performing until the very end! It was a dream come true for her, and it always gives me chills hearing her sing songs from the show because that passion is still so present. In this last segment she performed The Wizard and I first, and I believe this is the first time I’ve heard her sing this since her last show of Wicked? Either way, it was incredible to hear her sing this again.
To take a breather after The Wizard and I, Rachel mentioned a musical theatre summer school she’d attended when she was younger, and how in one of their shows Zoe Rainey had starred as her little sister. Years later, when Rachel finally became Elphaba, Zoe was cast alongside her as Nessarose (Elphaba’s younger sister)! Funny how the world works hey. While in Wicked Zoe was also understudy Glinda, and Rachel took this opportunity to perform For Good with Zoe. I hadn’t seen the show when Zoe was in it so it was lovely to hear her take on Glinda in this song, and just to hear two wonderfully talented Irish performers singing it!
Last but not least, obviously Rachel couldn’t do a Wicked section without performing Defying Gravity and I swear, I get chills every time. Rachel’s Elphaba is definitely the one that left the biggest impact on me and as I said earlier it was her performance that pretty much got me into musical theatre. Hearing her sing Defying Gravity always takes me back to the many times I sat in the Apollo Victoria with my jaw on the floor watching her sing her heart out, and knowing how special a role it was for her makes her rendition of it absolutely incredible.
After a short interval to recover, Rachel got straight back into it in the second act kicking things off with her brilliant version of Cabaret, changing the lyrics as usual to “I’m going like Rachel!” which always generates a huge cheer! Straight on from that she went onto the jazzy Sugar In My Bowl before having a chat about how thrilled she was to be bringing her show back home and thanked the MAC theatre for how accommodating they’d been to her. I have to say just how beautiful the MAC was, such a lovely venue to visit and all the staff were so pleasant too! It certainly makes a difference.
With her love of performing beginning in Belfast it made sense for Rachel to be approached about being a patron of the Belfast School of Performing Arts which is run by her friend James Huish. A group of students joined Rachel as she sang the title track of her album, The Reason, and also for a stunning song called Life, Love and Happiness which became famous around the time the conflict in Northern Ireland began to cease. Rachel spoke about how strange it was when she moved to London that there weren’t tanks and guns in the streets, and when she asked a friend at college why that was they said she must’ve been living in a warzone to have seen those. That realisation was a huge eyeopener for her and this song meant a lot in terms of the positive changes that were happening at the time.
Early last year I attended Kerrigan & Lowdermilk’s debut London concerts, one of which Rachel was the main vocalist for. Since that concert she’s been a real fan of their song Anyway and has sung it a couple of times in her own concerts; it’s a song I find absolutely heartbreaking but love in equal measure, so to hear her sing this again was incredible and I think it’s great that she’s spreading the word of Kerrigan & Lowdermilk far and wide.
Quickly changing the mood after Anyway, Rachel went straight into her crazy Tina Turner impersonation which is always absolutely hilarious! I’m sure from this next photo you can take a guess as to which song she is performing…
The Last Ship was Rachel’s Broadway debut, and her first big originated role, so naturally she talked about it in the concert and what it meant to her to move her little family across the ocean for such a big adventure. Sadly it was an adventure cut short far too soon, and personally I’m still hoping that the show has a future here in the West End. Rachel introduced James Huish to the stage and they performed a gorgeous duet from the show, It’s Not The Same Moon. James then took the stage for a song and after saying how grateful he was to Rachel for asking him to be a part of the gig he sang a wonderful rendition of Bring Him Home from Les Miserables.
Core family values obviously play a huge role for Rachel not only in her personality but in her life as an actress, when she speaks about her family in her concerts you can feel the love and appreciation with every word. The next song in the concert was for her mother who sadly passed away a few years ago, Rachel was joined by her sister Margaret to sing I Know Him So Well from Chess, a song their mother always asked them to perform. The sisters sounded so beautiful singing together, and it was lovely to see how their talent is a strong family trait.
Even though we were coming towards the end of the concert with only a few songs to go, Rachel still had more stories to tell! She told us about how she gained the nickname ‘Dizzy Lizzy’ by forgetting to lock their hotel safe on a family holiday, a safe including all their passports, her mother’s treasured jewellery, their money… The giggles of her family members surrounding me made me believe that hopefully their belongings remained safe regardless but Rachel left us on a cliffhanger before singing Nobody Does It Like Me. She followed this with the gorgeous Sondheim number Being Alive from Company.
Rachel then closed the show with Home from The Wiz, and as soon as she’d finished the last note the whole audience were on their feet to give her a well deserved standing ovation.
Of course it’s rare that the “last song” in a concert ever is the last song, and after solid applause and cheers Rachel returned to the stage to perform a storming encore medley of I’m The Greatest Star/Don’t Rain On My Parade, my favourite moment of this being her lyric change to “Hey Andrew Lloyd Webber, here I am!” which received a huge laugh from the audience!
Once again Rachel proved that she really is a star, but not only that she’s a true storyteller – that’s what sets her apart. Her concerts are full of heart and soul and if you don’t get the opportunity to see her live you are truly missing out on one of the most special performers we have in the West End scene.
All photos in this post are my own, if used please credit them back to this blog post :)