Monday, 2 August 2010
Interview with Broadway Buzz
The phenomenon that is Wicked has grossed in excess of $145 million at the box office in London alone, but that doesn’t mean its leading players are in any way complacent about appearing in a global franchise. At the end of March, an extensive cast change in the West End production at the Apollo Victoria Theatre found Belfast-born Rachel Tucker taking on the vocally and physically demanding role of Elphaba, the green witch who turns out to be less wicked than she is simply misunderstood. For Tucker, 29, the part fulfils a dream she has nursed for years, well before appearing on the West End in We Will Rock You or making it to the semifinals of I’d Do Anything, the BBC reality TV program to find a new Nancy for Oliver! The chatty, likable Tucker, who is contracted to Wicked through February 2011, took time to speak to Broadway.com one recent evening before preparing herself, once more, to defy gravity.
You’ve been London’s Elphaba for four months now. How is everything going?
I’ve settled in really nicely. The magic has not gone away; every night when I fly, it feels like the first time. I’d had a passion in me for this role from when I first saw it on Broadway fairly early in the run. Kristin Chenoweth was still in it [as Glinda] but we actually saw Idina Menzel’s understudy. I was 20 or so, and I had bribed my sister and my mom to go on a girlie shopping holiday to New York—but it was actually to see Wicked, and our tickets were dearer than our flight.
That’s not surprising for Wicked!
It was so amazing to be in a city with all these musicals. I grew up in Northern Ireland on musicals. Instead of cartoons, my family would watch Singin’ in the Rain and anything with Gene Kelly. My dad’s a singer and my sister’s a singer. They have day jobs, but they also have their own family band.
How much flexibility and freedom do you feel you have with this role, given the many Elphabas that have come before?
My feeling about Elphaba is that the performance will only come truthfully if I believe what I sing, so for me, it was important to go back to the base, which is Gregory Maguire’s novel, and to research the role as much as I could. I read the book inside out, back to front, and knew the script before I came to rehearsals. It was all about wanting to bring it back to what I felt was the most fundamental part of Elphaba –—that she is an extremely intricate, intelligent young lady who knows herself well enough but is nonetheless forced to learn about herself. I love the beauty of being able to stand on stage and tell this story.
So it’s about more than just hitting those money notes.
My husband [Guy Retallack] is a theater director, and he’s been very helpful about reminding me that if you get the meaning right, the sound will happen: The lyrics behind the music are the first port of call, and the reason why we sing in a musical is because we can no longer speak. On “So, if you care to find me” [an excerpt from the lyrics to “Defying Gravity”], I could listen to myself hitting those belty notes, but then I would know I have not delivered because the words mean more than just the sounds. It’s about being truthful enough with myself.
Did you meet your husband while doing a musical?
Yes, it was Tommy on tour, which was his first musical, and I auditioned literally the day before I went to New York [to see Wicked]. I was the first cover Acid Queen—they couldn’t give me the role because I wasn’t black—and played Sally Simpson. Lee [Mead, Tucker’s Fiyero in Wicked] was the first cover for Tommy.
So, when you were competing for the role of Nancy in Oliver! on TV, you could trade notes with Lee about his experience landing the title role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
It was because of Lee that I decided to do the TV program. I was playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz just as Lee was winning the part of Joseph on TV, and I thought to myself, “If Lee can do it, I can do it.” Because I knew someone who had gone through that whole experience, it didn’t seem impossible. I called him up and said, “What’s that whole thing like?” and he was like, “Tucker, just do it.”
Obviously the reality show was a good move for you.
The whole reason for me to do the TV show was to get a bit more of a profile. I had been pipped to the post so many times at auditions by people who had a higher profile than me, which is just the way of the world; it’s about putting bums on seats, So I was like, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Nothing had been coming up for me, so I thought, “Why am I turning my nose up at this opportunity? And if this gives me a little bit of a profile, why not?”
You must have a double set of stage-door fans: the Elphaba/Wicked devotees and those who were rooting for you to win the part of Nancy, which went to Jodie Prenger.
There are people who come to the show because they voted for me and then they fall in love with Wicked and then there are others at the stage door who say, “I was devastated to hear you were doing the role, but now I can’t picture anyone else.” There were a few, “Oh no, not Rachel Tucker!” comments [laughs].
I’m sure it’s not long into your performance before you win them over.
Again, it’s the show. I get letters from people saying, “I’m a lesbian, and by watching Elphaba grow, I realize it’s OK to be me.” I’ve found that this show works for everyone. That’s great for me, because it means I am doing my job properly. I’m delivering, and that comes back to Elphaba being truthful.
And, I would assume, to the fact that you have no fear of flying.
None at all, no. I love it.