There’s nothing quite like a master class straight from the bright lights of Broadway to inspire upcoming young performers hoping to pursue a career on the stage.
That is exactly what Stockton Riverside College Musical Theatre students got as New York star of stage and screen Rachelle Rak paid a visit.
Currently rehearsing for their final summer performance of West Side Story, the students were put through their paces Broadway-style.
Helping out with the choreography and sharing her expertise, Rachelle said: “Bringing someone from a different place is always good for students everywhere, whether American, British, you get this slightly different take on the story.”
“The first time I did West Side Story was in the European tour in 1989. I was only 19 at the time so I feel I can really relate to the students at this time in their life.”
With seven Broadway shows to her name and countless musical theatre shows and tours, Rachelle’s career is no doubt the epitome of every budding musical theatre star’s ambition. She certainly feels she is living the dream.
Her musical credits include the likes of Fosse, Catch Me If You Can, The Look of Love, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Though Shalt Not, Oklahoma, Chicago and Flashdance, to name but a few.
As well as being among Broadway’s finest, she is probably best known for having been a judge on American TV reality contest, Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition, and appearances on reality TV series, Dance Moms.
Visiting Stockton Riverside College to share her experiences with those just starting out and impressed with the dedication and commitment of the students, she said: “I didn’t come here thinking I would in any way be able to set the entire dance at the gym, a seven minute number.
“Everyone was so engaged, they see me full out and they are full out, that to me is impressive. I could spend weeks here sharing so much of what I have learned. It is about passing the torch.”
Rachelle was just turned 17 when she got her first break in Cats, inspired by a combination of growing up in her mum’s dance studio in Pittsburgh, seeing Liza Minnelli perform at Atlantic City and watching a Broadway performance of Cats. She said: “My slogan is I didn’t go to college I went to Cats.”
Over the years, she has never stopped learning. She explained: “You might be great at one thing but we don’t live in a world where you can just be one thing. These days they want this multi-talented artist. Broadway, the West End, they want it all. How do you get better? Practise.”
To be successful, she said it takes hard work, determination and of course talent, but she said it also takes willingness and guts.
“The students asked, have you had a lot of rejection? Anyone that says they have not had a lot of rejection are telling stories. I have had 100 no’s to the one yes. The one yes matters. It is elating, it is everything. You put all that work and time in and they say we want you, it is worth every bit of every no and every tear that you ever shed. Those moments matter.”
Stockton Riverside College’s Musical Theatre lecturer Sara Durkin said: “It has been an incredible experience for our students to work with Rachelle. It is so important for our students to work as close to professional standards as possible to prepare them for the real demands of stage school and the world of work. Our summer show is always spectacular and this year’s performance of West Side Story promises to be bigger and better than ever.”
West Side Story takes to the Margaret Armstrong Theatre at Stockton Riverside College June 4-8. For ticket details visit the college website.