On Tuesday 27 September, the West End production of Wicked will celebrate its official 10th birthday. A musical that has taught millions of theatre-going audiences about the true meaning of acceptance, it stands tall as a leader in the power of self-belief.
Ahead of the special anniversary performance, GT headed backstage at the Apollo Victoria Theatre to meet Rachel Tucker — London’s current, and returning green-girl, Elphaba.
Back from Broadway and returning to the West End production, the Irish actress talks all things #Wicked10, the power of difference, and what it’s like flying high as everyones favourite witch.
Welcome back to London… Rachel: Thank you!
Is it nice being back? It’s absolutely brilliant! God, it’s such an honour to be back for a start. This is a role that I hold very dear to my heart and it has taught me a lot, given me a lot, and to be asked back for the 10th anniversary is HUGE!
There really is no play like home… YEAH! [Chuckles]
How long before your move to Wicked on Broadway had you been playing Elphaba here in London? If it’s 11 months per contract including rehearsals, and I did three contracts here in total, that would make it 2 years 9 months in London with the last six months pregnant with my son which was another challenge. Heck, not only did I sing Elphaba eight times each week but I did it pregnant! [Laughs]
— Wicked UK (@WickedUK) September 16, 2016
You then moved to New York to star in Wicked on Broadway. How long was that for? A year but actually in the show for 11 months. It was actually 10 to begin but I was extended for seven weeks before joining the London production again now for another five months. That’s not far from five years in total as Elphaba when I’m all finished in January.
How many actual shows would that be then? I did just over 1,000 in London before I finished here I do believe, and then add Broadway, too. I’m around the 1,500 mark now together before I’ve done so once I’ve finished, I’d be close to that 2,000 mark.
And do you still love it? I ADORE it! I just adore her. It’s not only a brilliantly written musical, but the book lends itself so well to issues that are happening in everyday life. Getting to portray a lot of people’s feelings in the audience is a great thing. She’s strong, feisty but vulnerable and so as an actress, you get to play all those emotions. Each night I try and stretch her a little bit more.
How do you mean? If I’m on form vocally, I can do something that I’m trying to express that she can’t through words — that’s where a little riff might pop out because it’s not enough, say, to speak it. Sometimes I have to growl it or sing it from the rooftops. That’s almost her cry and I love getting to exercise that. It’s a great arch!
Has your Elphaba changed and grown as you’ve remained with the show? Massively! It really has, actually. My Elphaba, from when I started, has evolved and it’s more layered. I feel she’s matured nicely like a smelly cheese. [Giggles] It is true that the more you leave it the more you play with it. The more you experience her, the more real she becomes.
That’s what’s been so brilliant about having such a long run. I don’t think I’ll ever do such a long run like this in my life so that’s why I’ve been able to approach each time playing Elphaba in a greater sense of who she is and dig deeper.
How much did you know about her before you started? I read the book before and loved it. I loved the darkness of it and I know the creatives wanted to find the darker side of her where possible. I know it’s a commercial show and needs to be a hit with brightness and positivity, but this time around in London, I’ve picked up the book again just to touch on her and get a bit deeper and remember what it’s that she’s based on.
Talk us through how it was that you came to return to London for this 10th anniversary year… They asked! They asked and it’s massive. It’s the first time I’ve been asked to do a role or come back so it was very nice. It was a point in my career where I thought that I don’t have to audition for something which was nice. [Laughs] It gave my ego a little flutter.
How long ago was this? They asked was I interested not long after I started in New York. Almost this time last year they were finding out if one was interested and of course I was! It takes a while though to make it all happen.
Is it exciting knowing that leading figures of the original creative team will be attending to watch you at the anniversary performance? It’s nerve-racking. Like, really nerve-racking but not like where it would affect my performance. Well, I hope! [Laughs] At the end of the day, I’ve done it for this for a long time and I’ve had everyone watch me. Joe Mantello has watched loads and Stephen Schwartz saw me in New York not long before I left. I’ve had the approval and we’re OK, I think. I’m keeping my job! I will want to do them proud; them all proud.
Let’s talk accents. Have they, or you, ever been tempted to slip your native Irish accent in? [Laughs hysterically] If it went to Ireland and I was going with it then I’d ask. But sadly, it confuses an audience and I think they’re totally right when they brought it to London in making it a British accent here. Maybe one day!
What did you do in New York? American. I hadn’t done the show in years so it wasn’t really in my tongue there. I’d forgotten it mostly so it was about learning again. I actually find an American accent easier than English as it really rolled off my tongue.
What about returning to English now? That’s the tricky bit. I’d just finished a break when I started rehearsals and I’d found it harder more-so in the songs. It was harder to change or I didn’t even realise I was sounding so American. The director here was saying that I was sounding very American. Take words like heart, girl, curl. But, actually, that’s quite Irish so it’s very close so that could even be my accent coming out. I’ve really had to watch that here. I’m still working on it. [Giggles]
How’s the fans reaction been to you coming back? It’s been great and quite incredible! The fans are so generous and supportive and they just can’t get enough of the show. They’ve all been very excited which has been lovely. It has been nice seeing all the old faces that I’ve known from years ago and they’re still here supporting the show.
How much of playing this role has given you the chance to experience what life is like for those that feel different? That maybe don’t fit into ‘normal’ society? It’s funny you mention that as when I started the role, I don’t think I’d ever have related it to that. The older I’ve got, and the most LGBT issues have become a lot greater in society which is so amazing, we’re now in the best place in society to have an open mind. I’ve definitely found that more LGBT followers are coming to see the show.
What’s interesting for me is that it’s not always a physical difference but how somebody feels inside because they feel different and I love trying to make an audience recognise that. It’s a given that I’m green but what you’re really trying to show an audience is that I’m a person and you can break me. You honestly can break me and really hurt me with your words.
During the show, Elphaba finds herself on the receiving ends of being laughed at by these characters for arriving at a party and being different to the rest. How’s that, as an actress, to play each night? As an actress, it’s a brilliant curve in… [Pause as she begins to get emotional] Sorry, I get emotional thinking about it because, it’s, erm. [Long pause as she continues to struggle with her emotions]
When I’m really in the show and I really let my emotions open, it’s very hard. I have to play it the opposite for Elphaba to work as she doesn’t allow me, as Rachel, to get emotional — I’m just not allowed. The scene is for me to play the opposite and that’s what makes the audience cry. That’s what makes the audience feel that different and pain inside of me that’s really there.
Is that pain from experiences in your personal life? My connection here with Elphaba is that I wouldn’t allow it. I wouldn’t allow people to speak to me like this. I used to get called names and picked on a little for singing at school. People said I was showing off or that I couldn’t sing and I’d just smile, sing and ask, ‘Oh, can I not sing? Is that right?’ I wouldn’t let them win so I had that strength in me.
I was brought up to not let people speak to you like you’re a piece of dirt. You should know your own worth and know you’re good enough. I also wouldn’t let other girls be bullied or picked on at school. If I saw people picking on the weaker girl then I’d stand up for them. That’s actually one of my mum’s proudest moments, actually.
Tell us more… A friend once said to mum that her proudest moments must be seeing her daughter on a West End stage in Wicked. She said no and told of me coming home from school one day and I’d got detention for sticking up for a girl who was being bullied. She said that is her proudest moment!
Is this scene in Wicked also a tough moment for other cast members, too? Again, as actors and dancers who witness this moment every day, I don’t think we’re maybe aware of the power of this to us. I’m sure they’re not aware of it every day but in rehearsals, they’ve felt that connection with her and this moment. It’s funny as within the theatre industry, being gay, straight, lesbian or whatever isn’t an issue at all; it’s just us all going into the office and being open and ourselves. It’s really not a topic here so that could be why we forget how strong this moment is for audiences to experience.
How’s the green? I love being green but it really doesn’t want to come off. It’s actually harder to get the green off my skin here than it was in America. I don’t know if it’s the water or what but it’s more difficult. People looking at me on the tube or when I go to pay for things in shops look at the slight colour in my hands. [Laughs] I’ve never minded being painted green; it’s actually one of my favourite colours. No, it’s my favourite colour. I just love green and I love being painted that colour.
Some girls suit the green more than others and you can actually be very pretty with the green. Sometimes you can almost, weirdly, look like you’ve got no makeup on if it’s done really well.
What’s it like coming into work knowing that you’re getting to sing Defying Gravity every day, eight times every week? You said it! You said it with the eight-times. Eight every week and sometimes twice in one day with a matinee show. It’s so rewarding when you’re on there but I never think about it until I’m singing it. [Pause] You’ve just made me think about how my voice is for Defying Gravity, when actually I don’t think about it much. It’s part of the story for me, it’s not just a song but I understand that it’s a song to a lot of people and it’s an anthem to many. It’s an anthem to a lot of people that feel discriminated against or different.
I revel in the fact that I’m the official green girl that gets to sing Defying Gravity and the only person who gets to sing it in London. I revel in that as it’s an honour and a privilege. People that come to see Wicked want to hear it and they get to hear me sing it. It’s a pleasure and a joy.
When it comes to it physically and vocally, that part of the show finds me nicely warmed up and my voice is loose and ready from the previous songs and scenes. Technically, I’m usually in a really nice place unless I’m vocally tired. Then, I’d have to use my technique to get through certain placements you can not hold the for so long. I love feeling every moment of Defying Gravity and discovering it — to discover each moment is the biggest part of it. To discover the moments of Elphaba learning that she’s the one with the power is my favourite time in the show.
And you can’t be scared of heights… NO! You can’t be and I’m not. [Laughs] You can be but your job is going to be very difficult.
In terms of what’s next — is this the end of your Wicked journey in January? Would you come back to the show as a different character? I couldn’t sing Glinda if you paid me! I can’t do soprano. That Louise Dearman did but she can sing anything! [Laughs] I’d love to do the comedy elements and flip to feel it from the other side as Glinda but it’s vocally, sadly, not for me.
And finally, as Wicked celebrates 10 years here in London — what’s the secret behind its phenomenal success? You get a spectacular theatrical event! I don’t think you’ll be disappointed as it offers everything I think theatre should offer. A very believable storyline within fairytale land as it hits every universal idea of people’s attitudes to a different race, person, bullying, and alongside beautiful music. It has the glitz, glamour, costumes, set, lighting, sound. It has got everything! It’s a magical show and it has got everything you could ever want in a show.
Tickets for the 10th anniversary of Wicked London can be found here.