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Rachel Tucker has a Wicked way with a song

By Eddie McIlwaine

Just like me, Andrew Lloyd Webber was mesmerised by Rachel Tucker singing my favourite ballad, The Way We Were, on the talent series I'd Do Anything.

I already knew that Rachel was going to be a star - I'd been telling her the fairy tale would come true for 10 or so years when she was appearing in Belfast and around the province with her Tucker Family group.

She justified my faith by becoming a really dangerous lady, playing Elphaba in the musical Wicked in London's West End and also in New York, where she graced the Gershwin Theatre, which once upon a time was Frank Sinatra's favourite.

I'm chuffed at the way her career has blossomed, especially after she gave 1,000 performances of Elphaba in the West End.

Hardened theatre critics on the Broadway scene have described her as one of the most exciting new voices to appear there.

Now Rachel is home in her native Belfast to grace the stage of The Mac tonight and tomorrow night.

I hope she remembers to sing The Way We Were just for me.

How Ulster actress wows fans in darkly comic drama

Actress Lynsey-Anne Moffat (37) just had to accept a leading role in David Ireland's darkly comic play Everything Between Us, which comes to the end of a hit run at the Finborough Theatre in London next Tuesday, but will soon be going back on tour.

You see, a few years ago, when she was still at drama school in Glasgow, Lynsey-Anne picked a speech out of the politically flavoured piece by the Ulster writer to perform at a Royal Conservatoire of Scotland showcase event.

"Both the speech and I went down a treat and it did my career no harm at all," she told me. "So six years on, when director Neil Bull offered me the part of Sandra in this two-hander, I couldn't have refused even if I had wanted to."

Lynsey-Anne has been a big success, making Londoners sit up and take notice in a play that presents them with a slice of Ulster goings-on in the form of a confrontation between two sisters at the start of a Stormont truth and reconciliation commission.

The other sister, Teeni, is played by Katrina McKeever, of Belfast, and the drama has been performed to packed houses everywhere, including at the Finborough.

"It has been a pleasure working with Katrina on this play," said Lynsey-Anne. "We hit it off from day one of rehearsals and that has made the performances a joy. We bounce off and complement one another."

In the play, Sandra, a respected politician, comes face-to-face with her wild sibling, Teeni, who turns up after being missing for 11 years and racially abuses the commission's South African chair.

They have to deal with their shared past as daughters of a murdered UDA member and their divided present.

The big question is, what prompted Teeni's dramatic reappearance at a crucial moment in Northern Ireland's history?

You'll remember Lynsey-Anne - she's the young lady who, as a student at a theatre festival in Moscow, gave such an emotional performance in Crime and Punishment that one judge said she had reduced the audience to tears.

This daughter of Len and Linda Moffat, from Bangor, lives in Glasgow and has made a huge impact with her stage talent.

Fans will soon be able to hear her in an upcoming BBC Radio 4 play.

Fitting farewell to cinema owner

The cinema that he built and opened nearly 20 years ago, Movieland in Newtownards, was closed as the cortege of Ernest Watson, who has just died at 78, paused at the entrance while staff paid their respects.

"It was a poignant moment," said Ernie's sister, Irene Smith. "Even the old Compton organ, which he found in Scotland and spent years rebuilding, was silenced inside as the undertakers came to a halt on the way to Roselawn, where my brother was cremated after a humanist service."

It was in 1997 that Ernest, who lived in Torgrange, Holywood, started building the cinema, which opened in 1999 and is still a favourite entertainment centre to this day.

He began his working life as a continental engineer with the Mackies Company in Belfast, and travelled to countries such as Singapore, India and Pakistan to service the equipment installed by the foundry.

Ernest later returned home to set himself up as a publican and hotelier. His first bar in 1960 was The Park in Lawther Street, Belfast, followed by The Mount, the York Hotel (now Madisons), the Swiss Chalet at Glengormley and the Fern Lodge at Rathcoole.

Flautists ready to blow fans away

A highlight of the Ulster Orchestra concert in the Waterfront on Thursday, June 1 will be a duet between superstar guest Sir James Galway (77) and his friend, flautist Colin Fleming (60).

They will be playing a movement for two flutes called The Rondo, by Franz Doppler, with guest conductor David Brophy wielding the baton.

"It's a piece we played together 15 years ago at a music course I was taking in Liverpool," Colin, who has been in the Ulster Orchestra for 40 years, told me.

"James came to the course as a guest and we loved playing The Rondo together.

"So this concert in the Waterfront is the right time for a repeat."

Veteran Galway will be accompanied at the concert by his wife, Lady Jeanne, who of course is also an accomplished flautist.

He will be entertaining his audience in the way he knows best - with his flute and by talking to them about his life and times.

I'm delighted that he is linking up once again with my old friend Fleming, who once tried in vain to teach me to play the flute.

Meet the doctor who believes music is the best medicine

It will be just what the doctor ordered when baritone Brian McCrossan (39) steps on stage with the Una Voce (One Voice) Choir next Friday night at All Saints Parish Church in Antrim (7.45).

For Brian, away from music, is a medical man - a children's heart specialist at the Children's Hospital in Belfast.

"I sing for relaxation, it's my hobby and a tonic," says the good doctor whose prescription for feeling well in himself is hitting the right notes.

Belfast native Brian, away from his solo performances, is a member of a choir called Concentio, which rehearses at Stormont Presbyterian Church.

He has a special reason for linking up with Una Voce at their concert. Their conductor, Judith Watson, was his singing teacher once upon a time and he has a mighty regard for her.

Why comparing Labour's falling votes to Titanic sinking is odious

I have to take political writer Peter Oborne to task today for out-of-order remarks he made in his Sunday newspaper column.

What on earth was he thinking of when he compared the demise of the Labour Party to the Titanic after she hit the iceberg?

In my book, Oborne owes the families of all those victims of the tragedy a massive apology. He should have known better than write this outrageous and stupid comparison. Here's what he actually wrote: "I believe Labour is in a similar position to the Titanic after it hit an iceberg but before actually sinking."

How dare he. The sinking of the Titanic was one of the greatest maritime tragedies of all time and is still remembered more than 100 years after that fateful night.

Labour's troubles will soon be forgotten.

Prince Philip and poet whose work went from bad to verse

The word that Prince Philip is retiring reminds me that years ago, during a trip to Belfast, he told a gathering how William McGonagall - always referred to as the world's worst poet - was once refused entry to Balmoral Castle because his verse was so awful.

He had turned up to present Queen Victoria with a poem he had written about her. She pretended she wasn't in and William had to leave without giving a recitation.

McGonagall, a weaver by trade, only decided to write poetry when he was 52.

Appalling rhymes flowed from his pen. He was pelted with rotten fruit at his recitals, and a gig at the Ulster Hall in Belfast had to be cancelled because of poor ticket sales. He died in the summer of 1902.

On that same visit here I remember the Duke of Edinburgh taking the controls of a helicopter and performing a perfect lift-off.

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