West End and Broadway star Rachel Tucker told David Hennessy about her new album, starring in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard with Nicole Scherzinger, playing Elphaba in Wicked more than anyone else and being Olivier Award nominated for her work in Come From Away.
West End and Broadway actress Rachel Tucker, best known for her portrayal of Elphaba in the hit musical Wicked, is set to release her new album …you’re already home. Rachel will launch the album with a solo concert at the Cadogan Hall in London on 5 November.
The Olivier Award nominated actress from Belfast has also just joined the cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard in London, directed by Jamie Lloyd with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, based on the Billy Wilder film.
“It’s great but typical,” Rachel laughed when she spoke to The Irish World recently. You wait on a bus and then three come at once.”
The album features new arrangements of musical theatre hits like Wouldn’t It Be Loverly (My Fair Lady) and He’s My Boy (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie) as well as Rachel’s take of The Rolling Stone’s Following The River and The Waterboys’ Whole Of The Moon as well as an original song by Irish singer/songwriter Caroline Kay called I’m Home.
Tracks by Lewis Capaldi, Billie Eilish, Cyndi Lauper and Brandi Carlile also feature.
“For this last year, I have actively been listening for songs, tunes, stories, lyrics in songs that I have went, ‘That sounds like me’. Or if not, ‘That’s what I want to sound like’. This is probably my favourite Rolling Stones song. He’s my Boy from Jamie, I can sing that song and think about my boy and get emotional about it and have that feeling, that connection. A lot of it was to do with us living in New York at the time, and we were missing home.
“We’ve got a lovely home here in London and were actually deciding, ‘Where do we want to set up home for the rest of our lives?’ We spent two years in New York, ‘Are we really happy here? Is it everything that we wanted?’ And it turned out it wasn’t, so the catalyst for this was home and actually where is home. Through these songs, I decided wherever my son and my husband is, that’s my home.”
Tucker grew up singing on the cabaret circuit from the age of nine with her father, Tommy (Tucker) Kelly and sister Margaret Kelly under the group’s name Tucker Kelly and the Kelstar.
Do you ever remember deciding you wanted to be a performer?
“God no, it was never a decision. It was made for me. I came out singing. All my friends were going out clubbing. I was singing with my dad in clubs and pubs around Belfast, so I was just drawn to it always. My instinct was always to be performing so I always knew I was going to do it. It was just in what capacity. I think from age of 14, 15 I realised it was theatre.
“It was always theatre actually for me to be really honest, and I knew I needed to go to London to study, like my peers before me from Belfast that went. I knew I wanted to go to drama school and be in the West End, little did I know I’d end up on Broadway, from Belfast to Broadway. It has been a real journey. It really has.”
Was it daunting when you left Belfast to train at the Royal Academy of Music?
“It was. When you want something so bad, it’s never as fearful as you might think because you want it and you want to be there. My 18th birthday all I wanted was to go to the West End and see one or two shows, and so my mum and my sister took me for my 18th birthday and I saw three West End shows and I was like, ‘This is it, this is what I want to do, where I want to be’. So for the next three years we put everything in to getting me there. The Royal Academy was brilliant. I loved it.”
In 2008 Rachel took part in musical theatre reality competition I’d Do Anything, reaching the semi-finals of a show that was eventually won by Jodie Prenger and saw Jessie Buckley from Kerry come second.
Didn’t you sing a song from Sunset Boulevard in your time on that?
“That’s right, As If We Never Need to Say Goodbye, on the sing off with lovely Sarah Lark. My show was saved by Andrew Lloyd Webber by singing that song. Talk about full circle. When I’m in something, I’m all in and I was all in for that. I loved that process.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, there were times when it was horrible and it was hard but it was really fantastic exposure for me. I was on the cusp of an awful lot up until then so it was just a great door opener so I was then able to get into rooms that maybe I wasn’t able to get into before after that competition. They are ultimately great showcases for young talent, up and coming talent.
“They want to expose talent. Sure, look at our year: Jessie Buckley, Samantha Barks and Jodie Prenger. We had an incredibly talented bunch of girls.”
It wasn’t your first time on reality TV though, was it? You auditioned for Popstars when you were a teenager..
“That’s right, I auditioned for Louis Walsh. I mean a girl band, which was all the rage at the time. That would have been fantastic but ultimately, not me. I’m not a pop star. I never was. I was gonna try my hand at it like all of us at that age.”
So you missed out on being in Girls Aloud. Was an early rejection like that hard to take?
“I mean, it’s always brutal getting cut, ‘No, not interested’. But it was another rejection. It was one of maybe 100 that year. It’s reality. From a very young age, I had lots of rejections and have been exposed to that a lot. It’s part of the business and my mum and dad never sheltered me from it.
“There was never this mollycoddling because the drive was me. I was the driving force, it was never my parents. It was always my driving ambition so therefore, I had to absorb the knockbacks too but mum was great at being there.
“I remember auditioning for Les Mis over here and not getting it and her advice, ‘Rachel have a large glass of red wine, a bar chocolate, cry yourself to sleep and tomorrow morning, you wake up and you get back on the horse and dust yourself off.’ She allowed me 24 hours to feel sorry for myself.”
Well that’s clearly worked because you’ve been nominated for an Olivier..
“Again, something I didn’t get but being nominated was like I won. The fact that somebody recognised what I was doing in a show, that was it for me.”
Rachel was nominated for an Olivier for her work in Come From Away. She took over the role of Beverley and others from February 2019. She would then reprise her roles for the Broadway production.
“Un-be-lievable,” she says of the whole experience. “One of the best shows of my life, just life-changing, life-affirming getting to tell these real human stories and make people laugh and cry at the same time. It was an absolute gift of a role and a show.
“It also led me to my third Broadway show. I mean, it’s literally stuff that dreams are made of. I got to go to Broadway three times. That’s mad. Just the chances I’ve had, the same with Wicked.
“I did it here and then I got to do a year on Broadway with it, and my debut was working with Sting on Broadway in his semi- autobiographical musical, The Last Ship.
“What musical theatre has done for me in my life, it’s just been next level. I couldn’t have dreamed.. I did dream of going to Broadway. I even say at the end of my exit interview, ‘What’s your biggest dream?’ And I said (in a whisper), ‘Broadway’ because I was afraid to even sound like, ‘God, she thinks she’s gonna make it to Broadway’.
“Apologising for dreaming that big. And then, ten years later, I’ve done three Broadway shows: It’s mad. If you’d have told me when I was 15 in Belfast getting cut from Popstars: The Rivals, ‘You’ll do three Broadway shows’, I would have laughed in your face. It’s been just such an amazing, amazing career so far. I’m delighted and long may it last.”
Tucker took on the role of Elphaba in Wicked in 2010. For her portrayal, she won a WhatsOnStage award for Best Takeover in a Role. She would leave the role in 2012 as the West End’s longest running Elphaba before reprising the role for Broadway in 2015. For her performance in the Broadway production, Tucker was the recipient of the 2016 Best Female Replacement Award at the 2016 Broadway.com Audience Awards. With over 1,000 performances both in the West End and on Broadway, Tucker remains one of the longest-running Elphabas in the show’s history.
“Honestly, if there was one role I had to do for the rest of my life, it would be Elphaba in Wicked. I just adored almost every moment of it. Obviously, there’s ups and downs with everything, but it was the best teaching of how to sustain not just vocally and physically, but mentally how to stay present and sustain a long running show eight times a week. I didn’t do three years of drama school but I did three years on Wicked and that’s what it feels like, it feels like the Wicked drama school.”
It was just announced in August that Rachel was to join the cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard. Directed by Jamie Lloyd, Rachel is playing Norma Desmond in a cast that also includes former Pussycat Doll Nicole Sherzinger. I’ve known Jamie’s work for years and always admired him and looked up to him and his ethos and how he represents theatre. To actually be in the room and watch him work has been an absolute career highlight if I’m honest.
“When it comes to specifically musical theatre we’re kind of in a straitjacket when it comes to the straight concept of how musical theatre works and he’s just torn it up and thrown it over his shoulder and went, ‘No, actually it also can work like this’.
“And at every turn it’s just, ‘Oh, wow’. I’ve had to watch Jamie and Nicole because it’s her show, it’s her vehicle, so I’ve been watching and learning on my feet so to actually now get the chance to get up and do it, it’s been a real release and fabulous to get my chance.”
Speaking of Nicole, what is it like working with a former Pussycat Doll?
“Amazing, she is a powerhouse, she is a force of nature. She is so brilliant in this role. She sings it like nobody else. She is very highly focused. She’s been waiting on this all her life, I think. People assume she’s just a pop singer and she’s really not. She’s much more than that.”
…you’re already home follows Rachel’s 2013 album The Reason and 2017’s On the Road. She also released the EP Lessons in 2021.
“This my third studio album. This isn’t my first rodeo but this is my first kind of with a label who’s looked after me to such a high standard that Westway have done with a PR team and campaign and stuff behind me. It’s been a real labour of love. Ultimately it’s taken a year. It was this time last year we started talking about it, you know?”
The album is called …you’re home already. Is London home for you now or is Belfast always home.
“Belfast is always home, (but) it’s funny how you change your view on it. London- right here where I’m sitting- is home. The idea of going back to live in Belfast, it’s not even an idea. London is definitely home.”
How much are you looking forward to performing the songs of the album at Cadogan Hall?
“Oh my God, you’ve just given me a nervous stomach. Yeah, I can’t wait to sing this album live. Like I say, I’ve been working on it for a year and it’s been a love project. I’m a real storyteller at heart. That’s my passion, telling stories through songs. That’s what I love and think I’m best at doing.
“This is where I come alive and I always want people leaving my show feeling they have felt they get to know me Rachel, singer and actress but also they get feel what I feel. When I sing if I get people to emote and feel things, I know I’ve done my job.”
Would you be more nervous taking to the stage as yourself as opposed to a character in a play?
“Yes, 100%. We’re doing slightly different arrangements of these songs. Even though they’re pretty new, we’re trying to thread a show together so it’s still going to be different and new.
“It’s going to be the first time I’m doing it. So it’s nervous, always nervous for the first time doing it, just making sure it goes well and with a live band. So yeah, it’s exciting but it’s nerve racking.”