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After "Sobbing Uncontrollably" During Wicked, Rachel Tucker Takes Her Elphaba to Broadway

Tucker returns to Broadway in the role that made her a marquee name in London.

Rachel Tucker has a vivid memory of seeing Wicked on Broadway and being unable to stop sobbing once the show had ended. Little did she know that the young woman crying in the audience of the Gershwin Theatre would eventually become one of the most acclaimed — and the longest consecutively running — stars the show has ever seen.

The Irish-born Tucker took a circuitous route on her journey to Wicked. She gained notoriety when she auditioned for a different musical, Oliver!, via the popular British television competition series "I'll Do Anything." She made it to the semi-finals in 2008, getting the axe the ninth week after a particularly moving version of "Memory" from Cats. From there, she spent a year in the West End production of We Will Rock You in the role of Meat, singing Queen hits like "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." And then, in March 2010, she joined Wicked in London as Elphaba.

Tucker won a WhatsOnStage Award in 2011 for Best Takeover in a Role and would go on to play more than 900 performances before departing the cast in 2012. She made her Broadway debut in 2014 in Sting's The Last Ship, under the direction of Wicked captain Joe Mantello. And when the show got its closing notice in January of this year, all it took was a little text message before she was "Defying Gravity" in New York.

Rachel Tucker is the newest Elphaba of Broadway's long-running musical Wicked.
(© David Gordon/Tristram Kenton)

How did your joining the New York company of Wicked come about?
It has the same director [as The Last Ship], Joe Mantello. When we got our closing notice for Last Ship, I quite literally texted him and said, "Any other particular green girl going in?" And he texted back and said, "I'm on it." The ball kind of rolled from the end of January.

On your first day of rehearsal, did it all come back to you right away?
No, it didn't. [laughs] It really didn't. The team was looking at me and said, "You remember this, right?" and I said, "I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about." Especially the beginning [of the show], the wheelchair stuff. But after like four days of slowly getting through it, I genuinely could have gone on if I would have had to.

What was your first night as Broadway's Elphaba like?
It was amazing. It was great that it wasn't so new to me. I had done it before and that gives me confidence. Those real, real nerves were not there because I know the part so well now. I was able to be in the moment and enjoy myself and enjoy being Elphaba, as opposed to worrying about what the next scene is. It was really nice.

Having done more than 1,000 performances in London, how are you able to keep it fresh?
I really don't get bored. That's never been a part of my personality, as Rachel and as an actress onstage, especially if I love a show as much as I love Wicked. There's nothing boring about it. I really try to find each beat and each moment as it happens. There's a different spin on what a certain line might mean in London, as opposed to in New York. That's been nice and that's kept it fresh.

And you've got your Last Ship costar Fred Applegate as your Wizard now.
Oh my god. I heard the news, and I was like, "Hooray! Reunited!" We have a huge amount of people from The Last Ship on the production team. Sting himself came on my first night to see me and Fred. It was lovely of him. I have my Shipmates back.

Rachel Tucker poses with Sting on opening night of The Last Ship in 2014.
(© David Gordon)

Do you remember the first time you saw Wicked?
Yes. I have quite a famous story that people that come to see my [solo] shows know. We [went] on a New York shopping holiday before Christmas, when the pound had just beaten the dollar like crazy. We got flights and accommodations for less, and tickets for Wicked six rows from the front. I sobbed inconsolably after the show and after the auditorium had cleared. I was so overwhelmed by it. My sister was like, "Mom, we have a bit of a problem." I said, "I promise, I swear I'm gonna play that part some day." And my mom was like, "Yes, uh-huh, come on, Rachel, let's go." Little did I know I'd actually be on that stage ten years later.

Who was your first Elphaba?
It was actually Shoshana Bean. I did Shoshana's concert with her at the Hippodrome a couple of months ago and told her the story onstage. I was [disappointed] that Idina wasn't on, but then when I saw [Bean] I was like "Idina who?" [laughs]

Is your toddler son, Benjamin, old enough to see Wicked yet?
He watched the dress rehearsal and was absolutely riveted by it. By "For Good" he fell asleep because he needed his nap. He knows mom is green and she's a witch and her name is "Faba." That's what he calls her. He did ask his dad during the put-in, after "Defying Gravity" is over and the interval happens, to "play that again.' [laughs] "Rewind it and play it again."

In 2014, Rachel Tucker (left) was the leading lady of the Broadway musical The Last Ship, written by Grammy winner Sting.
(© Joan Marcus)