Rachael Beck is a music theatre star with an exceptional list of credits. From originating the role of Belle opposite Hugh Jackman to touring the country in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, she is a prolific leading lady with decades of experience in the arts.
In this interview, Beck discusses the challenges and rewards of a career in the music theatre industry.
Beck has loved the arts since childhood and doesn’t remember a time before she wanted to be a performer, saying, “it was just always in me, performance was always in me… I felt like it was home.”
Her first exposure to the arts was dancing at the local academy and her love for dance quickly developed into a passion for acting and singing, as well. Growing up in the tiny town of Alstonville, her “only vehicle[s] to perform” were Eisteddfods and school musicals. Beck found more opportunities when her family moved to Sydney, training at Ross Coleman’s Performance Arts Studio and auditioning for professional productions.
She made her debut in ‘Cats’ and is a fan of all things to do with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, even the controversial live-action film, which she introduced at the Australian premiere. Beck believes the storyline was “a bit of a jumbled mess”, the result of inserting a narrative into a famously plotless work, in her opinion. However, she found the high standard of dancing and selected lead performances, such as Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy, to be very impressive. Rachael insists that die-hard ‘Cats’ fans like herself would love it, admitting, “it’s in my blood, what can I say?”
Her ‘Cats’ journey began at the age of 13 when she auditioned and was offered the part of Rumpleteazer… if they could find another girl of her age to share the part. Although they didn’t, the creative team were so impressed by Beck that they kept calling her back. by the time I was 15, they said, ‘Oh right, you again. How old are you?’ I wrote ‘old enough’… then I left school halfway through year 10 and started doing ‘Cats’.”
Although in some ways it was a dream come true, the reality was very difficult. At the age of 15, Beck left her school, home and family to move to an unknown city and work in a demanding and high-pressure industry.
“I’d never been to Melbourne before… it was very hard for me because I was very, very lonely,” she explained. “I was in this really, really adult world of the stage with very mature people… I didn’t really have a mentor… it made me grow up very, very quickly.”
Ultimately, she had dreamed of being in ‘Cats’ since childhood, adding: ”You’ve lived a good life if you’ve achieved your childhood dream.”
The experience was also one of her motivations to become a teaching artist. Beck is a private coach, workshop coordinator and director of school musicals, working with performers all across Australia. Not having had mentors of her own when she was young, she knows first-hand the importance of creative support and guidance. She is especially passionate about mentoring young people.
“I have two kids of my own, so the more I see them growing up, the more I see there’s a need for kids to have guidance and have creativity in their lives.”
By the time she was cast as Belle in the Australian Premiere of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, Beck was in her twenties and facing a whole new kind of challenge. Under the guidance of the director, the late Richard Wherrett, the production became “raw and real… a bit sexy and dark.” However, once the entire show was blocked and finished, a team from Disney arrived to watch a run.
“Five days before opening, they sacked our director, who we’d been working with for six weeks and who had blocked the whole thing. They had all these big talks to the powers that be and they started reblocking the whole show two days before we opened. So, on opening night I was still reblocking before the curtain went up on the show.”
According to Beck, the main issue was Disney’s copyright, saying that “they’re so restricted in the way that they can do their shows… so creatively you’re a bit stifled.” Rather than developing an organic interpretation, she says that the new creative team wanted a carbon copy of the film.
Despite the challenges, Beck says it was a great role and that parts of the production were very rewarding. Belle’s ball gown is her favourite costume from her entire career, in spite of weighing more than 13 kilograms and causing an on-stage mishap.
“When I was dancing with the Beast, I accidentally fell and I couldn’t get up because it was so heavy. A tech guy had to come and drag me off the stage.”
She also loved playing opposite early career Hugh Jackman, now a Hollywood star famous for such films as ‘Wolverine’, ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘The Greatest Showman’. She says of her now close friend:
“He’s just the cheeky boy next door. He’s a beautiful guy… all of the success; all of that he totally deserves, because he just has the best work ethic; the best life ethic and is very generous.”
This year marks the 26th anniversary of the iconic Disney production. In 2020, Disney Theatrical Productions launched the Australian premiere of ‘Frozen’, starring Jemma Rix and Courtney Monsma who are the latest princesses for the company.
As the original Australian Disney princess, Beck’s advice for the next generation is to “enjoy the privilege of playing such an iconic character in a wonderful show. It is very special to play those types of characters… there’s something really magical about it.”
To Be Continued in Part 2…
Beck can be followed on social media at @TheRachaelBeck on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For more information on her teaching, directing and mentorship services, visit Rachael Beck’s website.