Interview with Rachel "Elphaba" Tucker
Rachel Tucker hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and rose to fame as a semi-finalist on the 2008 BBC casting show "I'd Do Anything" to find an actress to play Nancy in the West End revival of Oliver!. After her stint as Meat in London's We Will Rock You, she became the West End's longest-running Elphaba to date. Now she reprises her performance in the Broadway production of Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre, after making her Broadway debut in 2014 in the short-lived, but widely-celebrated musical The Last Ship, which featured music and lyrics by Sting.
Our reporter Hayden Thomas (Twitter: @WestEndReporter!) caught up with Broadway's emerald princess to talk all things Oz, as well as the future of The Last Ship and the future of Reality TV/musical theatre crossovers:
Hayden Thomas: So you're back playing Elpahaba, but this time on Broadway. Did you miss the green paint?
Rachel Tucker: Did I miss the green paint?! (Laughs) Well, I wouldn't say I missed it, but the minute that they started greening me again, I remembered how long it takes, as it's so meticulous. They are so particular about it and of course, they have to be. It reminded me again of how long the process takes.
HT: As the West End's longest-running Elphaba, do you find it's a bit like riding a bike? How long does it actually take until you're back in Elphaba mode and ready to go on?
RT: I had two and a half weeks of rehearsals and I'd say after about four days I could have gone on. I then had another two weeks to fine tune, which was great. It's very unusual that you know a part as well as this. People don't often go back and re-visit parts. It's unusual and nice to already have it under my belt and automatically start to focus on detail.
HT: That seems a bit of a rarity to have the luxury of extra rehearsal time.
RT: Yes! It really is a luxury.
HT: So what are your own favourite moments of the show?
RT: It changes, but at the moment I'm loving the transition, when something does change in Elphaba. I'm loving finding that each night. It's around the time when Madame Morrible shouts out: "She's a Wicked Witch!" - just before 'Defying Gravity.' It would be so easy just to go on and sing 'Defying Gravity' - it's now a classic and everyone knows it - but to really make people hear it, as opposed to singing along with it, that's part of my challenge every night - to really make people listen to it and hear what I'm saying.
HT: Now, of course, this role in 'Wicked' is not your Broadway debut. I do love a good Broadway cast recording, Rachel, and one of the albums I have on in the background on repeat at the moment is 'The Last Ship.' It's such a fantastic album! You must be so proud of it?
RT: Oh God, I'm so proud of the whole process. The album is stunning and beautifully made. I was so honoured and lucky to be a part of that.
HT: I definitely have my fingers crossed, but do you think 'The Last Ship' will ever set sail in the West End?
RT: Listen, I know it will! Even if Sting himself drops out, this show will definitely have another life. I know it will happen in London, or in the UK at least.
Michael Esper & Rachel Tucker in The Last Ship
HT: Obviously Sting was very hands-on with the whole process and then actually assuming the role of Jackie White on stage as well. What was it like to work so closely with him?
RT: Oh yes, we worked closely from the word 'Go!' I mean there's always going to be this type of barrier where you think: "Arghhhh, Sting's talking to me!" or "Arghhhh, Sting's giving me a musical director note!" It's very hard to ever get past that, but eventually you do when you're working with someone like that every day. And you want to come across to him as a professional. You have to just see him as a regular man. He was so hands-on in rehearsals and then when he did go into the show, it was very normal. I mean, we were all feeling tentative on the first night, as he had very little time to rehearse with the cast. Is he gonna be in the right place? Is he going to remember all his lines? There was all that going on, but it was like it was just meant to be.
HT: He does strike me as someone that's probably very approachable and happy to have a pint of Guinness with the cast afterwards.
RT: Yes he is very approachable. He actually came to my opening night here at 'Wicked' and then he came to the pub over the road and had a drink with us all.
HT: How lovely! So, you're settling into your second stint on Broadway now. I was wondering if you have any practical advice or tips for other British and Irish performers who would like to work on Broadway?
RT: The thing is that my dream, and I even said it out loud, my dream would be Broadway. But my everyday goal was just to work and do good work, at that. I dreamt of doing 'Wicked' in London, and I never dreamed that I'd be doing 'Wicked' on Broadway, until I got into the West End show. Then I thought: "I wonder... Is it possible?" You have to take it step by step by step. You can't just say at age 21: "Right, I'm off to Broadway!" It doesn't work like that. But I did say at 22 that my total and utter dream ambition would be Broadway and now I've done it twice in the space of one year! I made it happen, but ultimately there is a lot of people who have a say over who does what and who comes here. I don't know the half of it, when it comes to legal logistics and equity. Who do they allow over? Who don't they allow over? How does the swapping of actors between the UK and America work? That's all above my head. I have no idea.
HT: So you have someone who takes care of all the legal issues for you?
RT: Yes, that's right. They make the decision of you coming over. It's not really my decision to make. We would all love to go and play Broadway. Talent will play its part in getting you there, but it's not the final say. It comes from the producers and the directors of the show, then it goes to equity and then the whole visa process. At every point, someone could just turn around and say No. I had been working solidly for the past six years and I did the show in London for three years, but they didn't transfer me to Broadway straightaway. A lot of stars have to align.
HT: And they really have aligned for you this past year, Rachel.
RT: They really have. Whether that's luck or chance or talent... But it's all of the above. I'm a positive person and I like to always focus on the positive and if it all ends tomorrow, at least I've done it and I've done it twice. It's the stuff dreams are made of.
HT: Fabulous! So, if you had one day off this season, Rachel, what would you choose to go and see on Broadway?
RT: Well, I've already been to see 'Something Rotten!' which was amazing and I've seen 'Hamilton' which was incredible. But of all the shows I haven't yet seen, I think I would pop next door to Circle in the Square and see 'Fun Home.'
HT: Oh, that is a must-see! And as you say, it's only next door to you. Just pop over!
RT: I think I will. I'll just pop on over.
HT: The first time I saw you was on the BBC's casting show 'I'd Do Anything' in 2008 [Note: a Reality TV programme to cast the role of Nancy in a West End revival of 'Oliver!'], which proved to be a terrific platform and springboard for yourself as a musical theatre performer. America has also dabbled in this format with TV casting shows for 'Grease' and 'Legally Blonde' on Broadway. How do you see the future of Reality TV intertwining with the West End and Broadway?
RT: I think it's a generational thing. When my Dad was growing up, he went on "Opportunity Knocks" [Note: a former British TV talent show] and then that kind of thing faded away, as I remember, when I was a kid. It came back again when I was a teenager. I think it could die off and then maybe come back again. It might only be in five years time. When I was doing it seven years ago, there would have been eight year olds watching that are now fifteen and would love that opportunity now they've grown up a bit. So if you're fifteen or sixteen years old and you live at the arse-end-of-nowhere way up in Scotland and the West End seems so far away, and you actually audition for one of these shows and you're genuinely talented or exactly what they're looking for, then it that respect it's a brilliant showcase. But then the television side of it - they want their pound of flesh. They want good television and they want good ratings. They can't just go for twelve insanely talented girls or guys, they have to choose who's going to be entertaining to watch. That's where I don't love it. At the end of the day though, "I'd Do Anything" was a massive showcase for me and I'm so glad I did it! I was taking a gamble because I was a professional and I was already working. It's not like I wasn't getting any work, but I wanted to heighten my profile and get into the West End.
HT: Well, I'm glad you look back on that TV series fondly, as I do.
RT: Oh, I absolutely loved it! I loved every minute of it.
HT: I'm so happy things are working out so well for you on Broadway and I wish you all the very best with the rest of your run in 'Wicked.'
RT: Thank you. It's been lovely to talk to you.
Wicked is currently booking at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre through to 20 March 2016.