Rachel Tucker, competitor in TV programme “I’d Do Anything” for the role of Nancy in Oliver, gave a great concert in St James Theatre.
- “Tucker thrills..would love to see her ..attempt the intimate cabaret .. with just a piano for accompaniment.”
When launching hernew album “The Reason” in July this year, Rachel Tucker played St James Studio – this time she was promoted to the main house and sold out. Tonight was also the opening of the London Festival of Cabaret and Rachel, along with Leigh Zimmerman and Domenick Allen who were playing downstairs, helped kick the proceedings off to a great start.
Let me say from the outset, this was a great show and both I and the largely youthful audience enjoyed it immensely. It was a little confusing, however, that it was billed as a cabaret and programmed in the Festival, because it was really not a cabaret, but a concert of pop songs and musical theatre material with a 6-piece band and 2 backing singers, Jennifer Tierney and Stevie Tate Bauer – a very good concert, but not the intimate experience I was expecting from the billing.
This point aside, it was an exciting experience to see Tucker perform work she is less well-known for, having become so successful as a musical theatre performer. She covered a wide range of styles from the Andrews Sisters to The Beatles to Barbara Streisand, as well as some great showstoppers from musicals she has either been in or just happens to love.
There were times when the connection between one very different style of song and another might have been a little clearer, and indeed often was not attempted, but the variety and pace of the show never wavered and the quality of her singing, movement and use of space kept us entranced. Of all the artists to cover ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked, where Tucker played Elphaba to great acclaim, she arguably best makes the narrative work as a standalone number. Also, the arrangement with the key change at the end helps bring it to a rousing finish guaranteed to bring the audience to their feet.
She has an easy rapport with the audience and her band on stage, which all helped to create a homely atmosphere and enabled us to feel we were getting to know her. She handled an unfortunate audience member with a coughing fit with particular humour and grace.
Enjoyable though the first half of the show was, the second half was the more effective of the two because the style was more consistent, with fewer changes of genre. The territory was, therefore, clearer. After a big opening with ‘One Night Only’ and a beautifully yearning version of Queen’s ‘No One But You’, which she sang in the West End show, she presented a fun and wonderful medley of Tina Turner songs with all the commitment and rough-hewn aggression required. Few artists would dare to take on this material, being so famed and distinctive, but Tucker thrills in it.
She also received great appreciation for her unique renditions of Sondheim’s ‘Being AIive’ and ‘Life is a Cabaret’, and surprised us with guest artists Wicked colleague Louise Dearman , currently playing Elphaba, and her entertainer father Tommy Tucker Kelly. In particular, I liked what she did with ‘Small Bump’, which features on the album. Here she takes the lyrics from a female perspective, having first sung it pregnant with her first child.
This has been a rollercoaster of a year for Tucker. Not only has she given birth to the above-mentioned baby boy, but launched her first album and lost her mother to cancer. I greatly look forward to seeing how motherhood and further years of solo performance matures her as an artist.
Right now, she makes full use of her enormous voice and renowned belt quality. I would love to see her make the leap of faith and attempt the intimate cabaret I had been expecting, with just a piano for accompaniment. Her storytelling instincts are powerful and engaging, as is especially evidenced by ‘Stars and the Moon’, and her voice in the quieter songs is pure and moving. For me, one of the best moments in the show was when she sat on the edge of the stage to sing ‘Moon River’ and ‘Smile’, and refrained from belting altogether. It would be a brave transition for her to construct a whole evening in this genre, but I sense it could be delightful.
Whatever she chooses -musical theatre, pop and rock or sophisticated cabaret – she will undoubtedly entertain and dazzle, and she is genuinely able to make the choice! She has an excellent band backing her, led by MD Liam Holmes, which includes trumpeter James Lawrence adding a fine contribution.