Monday, 2 June 2008
Rachel As Dorothy
I first encountered Rachel in November last year at Belfast's Lyric Theatre.
The Lyric is a venue that could best be described as 'compact and bijou.' Situated in a side street full of residential houses, it's easily overlooked by theatre goers more keen on the opulent Grand Opera House in the city centre.
I'd been to a few productions with my wife many years ago, but I couldn't describe myself as an avid theatre-goer.
Our daughter had joined a local drama class with some of her friends, and there was an opportunity to apply for the role of Munchkins in what was to be the Lyric's final show before closing for major refurbishment.
We filled in the forms and crossed our fingers. Then we discovered that the auditions were being plugged on local radio and the Belfast Telegraph, the biggest local paper by miles. We reckoned our chances were zero.
They sank somewhat below that figure when we turned up two hours late for the audition. My wife hadn't read her text messages, one of which had been about rescheduled times.
A lovely lady called Clare told us to come back in an hour and we might still get a hearing. We went for a coffee and on returning our daughter was whisked off for a stage test.
Shockingly, she was accepted.
We suddenly discovered that she'd be doing 27 shows, not including rehearsals. Living 20 miles from the theatre, this was going to be a tough ask. None of her friends had got through, so we were on our own.
But we went for it. Our daughter loved the staff and the rehearsals and everything was fine. We asked 'have you met Dorothy yet?' 'Yes.' 'What's she like?' 'Nice.'
Kids have the knack of summing people up in a nutshell, then wandering off. She was later to describe Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt as 'really old men -- even older than you daddy.'
So showtime finally arrived. We got seats for the press night. As far as I could ascertain, the press consisted of one bored looking bloke. I suspect had the press known just who was on stage, he'd have been trampled in the rush.
I don't really know what we'd been expecting. I think I'd hoped for a production maybe a little superior to a school play.
I was delighted to discover that the show was pure professionalism -- great props, super sound, a palpable sense of fun and a wonderful cast, including a wicked witch so green and scary that several small children in the audience had to leave.
And Dorothy. There was something about Dorothy. My father was mature enough to have seen the original film on it's release. He pronounced this girl to be 'better than Judy Garland.'
And dammit she was. She had the perfect look for the part, a beautiful singing voice and a wonderfully natural acting style. She was called Rachel Tucker.
We had planned to attend as many shows as possible, but in the end, due to high demand for tickets, I only managed two shows and my wife three.
After the second show, some of the cast members, including Rachel, appeared in the foyer for a few minutes. The small group I was with had a general chat with them about the production, and I was struck by how modest and down to earth Rachel was. That's not to say that the other cast members were anything less, but Rachel was after all the star of the show.
The final Oz performance took place on January 13th and took the form of a fund-raising event for the Lyric.
Themed as 'Glinda's Glitter Ball', the show featured myriad local celebrities, including TV presenter Pamela Ballentine, comedienne Nuala McKeever, singer Brian Kennedy and Rachel's friend from Hollyoaks, Gerard McCarthy.
Also privileged to be on the same stage as Rachel and my daughter were James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson. Liam had great praise for Rachel's performance and publicly backed her a few months later.
At £100 a head, we weren't able to stretch to attending, but some friends of ours did and they had a great night.
It wasn't until shortly before 'I'd Do Anything' began it's TV run that we found out Rachel was taking part. This news caused quite a stir in the 'Munchkin family' and it was a great thrill for the kids to see someone on a major TV show whom they'd worked with so recently.
As the competition wore on, things began to go wrong. Everyone was shocked to see Rachel in the bottom two and breathed a sigh of relief when she was saved.
Richard Croxford, director of the Lyric Oz show, swung into action.
He emailed all the Munchkins families, urging them to vote and campaign for Rachel and even offering a prize to the most committed campaigner.
Following Rachel's second appearance in the bottom two, Richard organised a 'Yellow Brick Road' afternoon outside the theatre.
The kids all turned up in yellow clothes (Rachel's colour), painted the outer wall of the theatre and posed for photos for the papers. Meanwhile the theatre staff had a lifesize cardboard Rachel with them and waved posters at the passing traffic, chorusing 'vote for Rachel!' A photo and small article appeared in the following day's 'Daily Mirror.'
I do have some photos and video of this event, which you can see elsewhere on this site.
The amazing attendance and massive enthusiasm at this event demonstrated more than ever the huge affection for Rachel amongst the children and the tireless work Richard had put in on her behalf.
I felt so bad for everyone when Rachel so unjustly exited the competition the following Sunday.
We'd watched the 'Cabaret' performance on Saturday and I was so confident that this would put her in the final that I hardly even considered the alternative possibility.
There has been a lot written on the Internet Forum about Rachel's untimely exit, and I've no intention of going through it all again here.
Suffice to say that whatever the outcome, 'I'd Do Anything' was a phenomenal showcase for Rachel's talent and given the events of the last few days, it was definitely the right career move.
The Oz experience was a triumphant one for Rachel, and won her many admirers and life-long fans amongst children, parents and theatre goers alike.
Here is the original Lyric Theatre advert for the show:
Lyric Theatre Advert
and for Glinda's Glitter Ball:
Glinda's Glitter Ball