Rachel Tucker in Concert continues at Live At Zédel, London until 25 March, then on tour in May and June.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Bubbly Belfast songbird Rachel Tucker’s main claim to fame is that she played the role of Elphaba in Wicked longer than any other actress in the production’s history, but on the first of four nights at Live At Zédel before she launches a UK tour the singer and actress proves she’s a lot more than a one-trick pony (or witch, even).
In a two-hour show that certainly didn’t short-change its full-house audience, the flame-haired Tucker crammed a heady mix of show songs, pop, standards and jazz that would have had something for everyone to enjoy.
Not everything rocked my boat, but anyone who can do justice to ‘This Used to Be Mine’, Sara Bareilles’ best-known song from Waitress, the musical which has been wowing New York for a while now and needs to cross the Atlantic ASAP please, got me onside straight away.
Tucker’s effortless power, crystal clarity and feel for the song shines through and there is plenty else for musical theatre buffs, not least ‘You Matter to Me’ from the same source where she duets with Mark Dugdale, who is in his final week as a Jersey Boy across the road at the Piccadilly Theatre.
Oliver!, Chicago, Wicked (but of course), On the Town, Beautiful, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Waitress and the new Pasek and Paul musical, Dear Evan Hansen, which opened on Broadway in December, were just some of the shows she visited.
It was Oliver! that started her on that journey nine years ago when Lloyd Webber’s TV casting show I’d Do Anything (the search for an actress to play Nancy) first introduced her to most of us.
Although the bookies’ favourite at one stage (and the one Cameron Mackintosh wanted), she didn’t get the gig, getting bumped out by the noble Lord in the semi-final, the public voting for the homespun northern charms of Jodie Prenger in the end.
Wicked has dominated her career since – her latest Elphaba shift finishing in January – not only here but on Broadway where she also starred in the Sting musical The Last Ship, while before Wicked she made a big impression for a year as Meat and first understudy Scaramouche in We Will Rock You.
It is ‘No Good Deed’ from Wicked which leads into her Elton John finale ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and the all-join-in Ed Sheeran number ‘Castle On the Hill’.
Yes, Tucker can do anything and everything, even songwriting. She gave us a sample of that with the self-penned ‘I’m Falling’ which she said she’d started years ago but had remained unfinished until collaborating with her MD Kris Rawlinson.
‘Miss Otis Regrets’ and ‘Pearl’s a Singer’ also impress as does a slow, jazzy version of ‘The Man That Got Away’, the song from A Star Is Born made famous by her idol Judy Garland.
So now it’’s all systems go for her first solo tour, directed by Guy Retallack, her husband and greatest fan. It kicks off in her home city on 13 May and winds down in Birmingham on 10 June, the eight-centre itinerary taking in three more dates at Live At Zédel (5-7 June).
Before then the linking patter which is unsure now and again will get a polish and the sound balance improved – pianist Rawlinson and Keir Adamson (drums) and John Brindley (guitar and bass) are a little overpowering at times in such a small room.
But it’s a work in progress and this is a fine start. The only way now is up.