Onstage & Backstage: How Did The Last Ship Star Rachel Tucker End Up At Andrew Lloyd Webber's House?

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: How Did The Last Ship Star Rachel Tucker End Up At Andrew Lloyd Webber's House?
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Seth with Gavin Creel
Seth with Gavin Creel

Up, up and away! I'm off to Tampa for the second time in two weeks. First I did Deconstructing Broadway at the Straz Center and now I'm returning to announce their upcoming season. The Straz has some great shows including Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, The Lion King, If/Then, Matilda the Musical, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, The Sound of Music, Newsies and Kinky Boots! I was going to do the trip all in one day (fly out Monday morning and fly back that night) but I heard a storm was coming. And by "I heard," I mean James told me. I'm the only person who's nervous that his husband spends too much time on the internet. Not on porn sites — on Weather.com. He thought my flight might be delayed so I changed it to Sunday night. Lo and behold, he was right, and it was actually cancelled! Basically, he's a combination of Al Roker and Jeanne Dixon.

Flying on Sunday means I'm in the air when "Downtown Abbey" is on which is doubly stressful. James and I love to watch it together so we both said we wouldn't watch it tonight while we're apart. That means resisting watching it on the conveniently placed television right in front of my seat. I haven't had to use this much will power since the first time I met Patti LuPone. It was backstage at Grease and I told myself to act cool and not say something like "I love you." Suffice it to say, my willpower lasted one minute and I immediately and literally blurted out, "I love you." In other words, we'll see how long I can avoid Lady Cora and her kindly head shaking.

The other issue I have is if I avoid watching it tonight, I have to also avoid all social media until I see the episode. The last time I skipped an episode, I innocently went on Twitter and saw Michaelangelo Signorile's tweet "Did (I've removed the name) have to die?" Attention everyone: Do not put anything on social media until you are certain the entire world has seen whatever you're discussing! That includes "Phinny dies" and the explanation for "Rosebud." However, I would love somebody, anybody to explain why a mystery novel is allowed to end without revealing the answer to the mystery. "In The Woods" by Tara French is all about a murder that happened 30 years ago and by end you find out... literally nothing. You have no idea what happened in those so-called woods all those years ago. Is that supposed to be cool? Like when I went to Oberlin and all the modern composers would only compose without melodies because supposedly no one wanted to hear them? Is the current feeling that no one wants mysteries resolved anymore? I do!!!

This week I had Gavin Creel on "Seth Speaks," my SiriusXM talk show. He told us that a few years ago he was asked to audition to replace Andrew Rannells in The Book of Mormon and said no. He admitted it was fear based; he thought Andrew's performance was perfect and there was no way he could be as good. They held auditions, didn't find anyone, and a few weeks later, Casey Nicholaw took Gavin out for a meal. He handed Gavin a script with no stage directions and that's all it took for Gavin to say yes. Why? Because Gavin said he needed the freedom to make the role his own and he knew Casey would let him have that freedom because he showed him a script where the stage directions could be created from scratch. Since then, Gavin has played the role all over the USA, Canada and London where he just won the Olivier award (!) and he's now on Broadway. Speaking of London, we were both talking about how you're not really allowed to want something if you're British. Desire, confidence, goals are all looked down on a bit in England. In fact, everyone used to make fun of Gavin for being so enthusiastic! Gavin said that the Olivier Awards were so incredibly thrilling for him, but he knew it wasn't really cool to be overjoyed. He said it felt like he was surrounded by a lot of "pillow screamers" AKA people who go home and get out all of their excitement and joy by screaming into a pillow. PS, Gavin especially loved doing the Oliviers because they had a giant orchestra. Watch! And go see him on Broadway! "Seth Speaks" with him is re-airing this week (I post it on my twitter, @SethRudetsky) and you have to tune in to hear him end the segment with an amazing rendition of "Ode To Billy Joe." So beautiful and haunting.

Speaking of beautiful and haunting, James and I went to 54 Below to see Christine Ebersole. She can sing anything. Broadway belt, soprano, pop, folk and opera. It's crazy! She had such fantastic arrangements and back-up vocals led by Bette Sussman (who used to work with Bette Midler and Whitney Houston) and they sounded fantastic! Christine wound up doing this one number that was so cool but probably only resonated fully with people in the audience who knew the original film version of Grey Gardens and "Revolutionary Costume for Today" from the musical as well as Gwen Stefani's "Rich Girl." AKA, me!

Rachel Tucker, who just recently starred in The Last Ship was my guest at "Chatterbox." She's originally from Belfast, Ireland. I asked if she saw a lot of musical theatre shows when she was growing up and she didn't because, apparently, no one wanted to perform in their town because of the Ireland/England fighting. She told us that the big theatre in Belfast is the most bombed anywhere! Even though Rachel grew up in a sort of war zone, she was totally used to it. The house across the street belonged to a judge and there were always police guarding the house that would stake out in her backyard. Instead of being terrified, Rachel would come outside and sing to them. Hopefully, they weren't so distracted by one of her amazing high notes that they forgot to do the actual guarding of the judge. Me as an Irish police officer: "Sorry I missed seeing that guy breaking into your house, sir, but I was obsessed with Rachel's amazing spin on an E." Silence "She started straight tone and then added vibrato!" Fired.

Seth with Rachel Tucker
Seth with Rachel Tucker

Rachel went to Dublin for an open call of Rent and not only got into the show, she was offered the role of Maureen! At 17 years old! She absolutely loved doing it and afterwards she went to theatre school in England. After touring with some shows (including Tommy where she met her husband!), she heard about a TV reality show for Oliver called "I'd Do Anything." Her friend had recently been cast as Joseph in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when he won the British reality show "Any Dream Will Do," so she thought that she could have a chance getting the role of Nancy. She went to the open call and there was an eight hour wait. However... someone came around and told the ladies that if they signed up the night before, they should come to the front. Rachel decided to follow the few people who left the line and see if she could get away with it. They asked to see everyone's phone for proof that they got a call from the show confirming their audition time. The woman in front said that it was from a private number so it didn't show up on her phone. Rachel hauled out the same excuse, and they bought it! Then she asked where she could change into her audition outfit. They pointed to a bathroom at the top of the stairs, which was even further at the front of the line. Rachel went into the bathroom and instead of walking back down, stayed at the front. Brava trickery! Her eight-hour wait became a one-hour jaunt.

She made it into the call-backs and they told her they were going to film an episode where the ladies were told who were in the finals. It was going to be out-of town... at the estate of Andrew Lloyd Webber! Well, before these auditions, she had been trying out for the role of Elphaba in Wicked. On the specific day she was supposed to go to Lloyd Webber's manse, she was asked to come to a final call-back for Wicked with the creative team from the U.S. Ah! She had to choose between them. A reality show that might be embarrassing? Or a final call-back she might not even get? She finally decided that she could audition for Wicked again so she left town in the morning and went to Lord Lloyd Webber's vast estate. She was never heard from again. Just kidding! But doesn't that sound like a line from mystery novel? Anyhoo, she made it into the show and here are all of her appearances... so good!

Tucker with Michael Esper in <i>The Last Ship</i>
Tucker with Michael Esper in The Last Ship Photo by Matthew Murphy

Rachel stayed on the show for a long time but wasn't cast as Nancy. One of the judges was Barry Humphries (Dame Edna) who commented that she wasn't neccessarily a perfect Nancy, but could be a good understudy. When Oliver began, they actually offered Rachel the role twice a week, but because of the Dame Edna comment, she thought she shouldn't take it. Instead, she wound up getting a great role in We Will Rock You. After a year, she was asked to renew her contract, but if she did, she knew wouldn't be able to leave in case she got Wicked. Not that she had an audition for Wicked, but she hoped. So, she left We Will Rock You and waited for Wicked to come around again. Oy! So many Sophie's choices! Finally, she got asked to audition for Elphaba. They put her on film for the American creative staff but made her come back the next day and film it again. Why? Because her outfit was too sassy! Apparently, Elphaba is less Katy Perry and more Mrs. Danvers. The amazing news is, her gamble paid off: She got the role of Elphaba and played it for three years! Here she is singing on the Oliviers! And on that (high) note, peace out! (Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)

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