Last year, Rebecca McKinnis was announced to play Heidi Hansen in the original West End cast of the London transfer of Dear Evan Hansen with performances starting at the Noël Coward Theatre in October 2019 and the show was due to continue before theatres around the world closed due to the current pandemic. Prior to joining Dear Evan Hansen, Rebecca had been playing Margaret New in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie in the West End, which saw her perform one of the songs on Children in Need, and some of her other roles have included A Small Family Business at the National Theatre, understudying Killer Queen in We Will Rock You and being in the cast of the Boy George musical Taboo, which was her first professional job. Recently, Rebecca returned to live theatre for the first time since theatres closed playing the role of Bridget in new musical St. Anne Comes Home at St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. Speaking with us, we found out from Rebecca about playing Heidi Hansen in Dear Evan Hansen, taking over the role of Margaret New in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and returning to live theatre for St. Anne Comes Home.
What is Heidi Hansen like to play in Dear Evan Hansen at the Noël Coward Theatre?
Oh wow… It’s pretty much a dream role to be honest… I get to sing some awesome songs and act with some incredible talent on that stage. It’s not all fun and games for Heidi though… like a lot of the characters, some of the content of the show can be quite hard to play, so you kind of have to get yourself to that place every night. Sometimes it’s emotional but it’s always a buzz hearing and seeing the audience at the end of the show.
How is it being part of the original West End cast and what was it like preparing for the West End transfer?
I was like PINCH ME!! Is this real?? I mean, we started our rehearsals in New York for a week then just all the buzz around the show and working with all the talented creatives – oh, it was just amazing!
What drew you to the role and how was it seeing the script for the first time?
I saw the script for the first time when I was auditioning and I was like… oh this… this is me…She’s a working mum living with that guilt of maybe not being as present for her son as she perhaps would like to be and as a working single mum myself I felt the pain. The script is so beautifully written it was easy to slip into the character… the only thing that I had to think harder about was the American accent!
How was the atmosphere on opening and press night?
So cool. But absolutely nerve-racking for us in the cast. All eyes were on us. But once the show came down on press night there was just a huge sense of relief and joy and then the party was insane!! Not surprisingly I was exhausted by the end of the night but of course in a good way.
Do you have any favourite moments from your time in the production so far?
Well, meeting Wills and Kate was pretty special. Along with all the other amazing talent we’ve had in to watch the show (Angelina Jolie, Helena Bonham-Carter, Emma Thompson!!). But really I think the best times I’ve had in the show is bonding with the other cast members and forming friendships and just generally laughing a lot backstage – I love them and I really miss that.
You took over the role of Margaret New in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie in 2018, how did you find your time in the show?
That show will always have a very special place in my heart. For a start, it’s just such a good show with an important message. And watching it get put on while I was an understudy was so great, I loved getting to watch the process. Josie (Walker) who played the role before me is a friend but also my idol. She’s amazing. And John (McCrea) too. I was just so grateful for the opportunity that show gave me of realising my dream of becoming a leading lady. I will never forget that.
Can you say about performing He’s My Boy on Children in Need?
Ha Ha. The main thing I remember about that night is just being so nervous I could hardly speak! We were whisked after the show straight to the studio and basically as soon as we got in there we were on!! So scary but again such an incredible experience.
What was it like being in the cast of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at Playhouse Theatre and how did the London run go?
The run went well. I think it closed too soon. That show is brilliant and such a great show for women. I understudied the lead and actually had to go on in previews! I’d had no rehearsals so I was in the wings looking at the lines before every scene!! It was great though – Pepa is a great part.
How was it performing at the National Theatre as Tina Ruston in A Small Family Business?
Being at the National was incredible! There’s such a nice vibe there and everyone is so talented and lovely – they really look after you. Playing in the Olivier with no mic was a different experience for me and I really learned how to use my voice. The show was about a family and we really all got on like one. I’d love to be back at the Nash one day soon.
You were part of We Will Rock You at Dominion Theatre, can you tell us about playing Teacher and covering the role of Killer Queen?
It was a dream of mine to play Scaramouche but alas that never transpired. But actually, looking back, playing Killer Queen was just as amazing. You can really let rip. That show is so much fun and I absolutely adore Queen so I was in heaven. It’s a tough show vocally though I must say.
Can you say about some of the other productions you’ve been involved with that have included Viva Forever, MAMMA MIA! and Fat Pig?
Viva Forever was such a great experience. Again, being part of an original cast is so exciting as you get to create and have a say and enjoy all the hype around the show. Plus, we met the Spice Girls – what more could you ask for?!! I’ve done MAMMA MIA! twice and really love all the adult female roles and feel very lucky to have played them all at some point. I must mention my first ever job which was Boy George’s Taboo! That show is so much fun to be in and I really had a blast. The music is superb too!
How did you find the experience filming for The Sound of Music Live?
Oh it was so, so fun! I was one of about ten nuns and we were all just hanging around in our habits all the time laughing and joking during rehearsals – it was so funny. But on the actual day of filming it was quite scary knowing it was going out live to the nation! I mean, imagine if something awful went wrong – we were lighting candles at one point – imagine one of the nun’s habits going up in flames on live TV!!! I had a right laugh though.
Had you always wanted a theatre career and how did you get into it?
I actually didn’t properly decide that I did until I was around seventeen. I’d always loved singing and been part of my local am-dram, which I adored. But I decided to audition for drama school and just leave it up to fate – if I got in then maybe it was the right career for me. And I did so the rest I guess is history.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
With my daughter. Being at work every evening means I don’t get to spend as much time with her as I’d like. That’s basically been the only good thing to come out of COVID for me. I’ve spent more time with my daughter in the last few months than I have in her whole life I think. She’s loved it too.
You’ve recently performed in St. Anne Comes Home at St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, what was it like returning to live theatre?
So exciting and I’ve got to say daunting too. It was outdoors so everything was different but it’s such a beautiful piece I fell in love with it and it actually really suited being done outside. St. Paul’s is so pretty. I was very grateful to be there.
Can you say about the new musical and what it was like playing Bridget?
It has been written by Jack Miles who’s a genius and it’s sort of a folky vibe which is right up my street. I loved the music as soon as I heard it. And Martha Geelan and Joe Beighton, the director and MD, were a delight to work with. I really enjoyed myself and kudos to the producers making good out of the whole pandemic situation. I think it was their first producing gig and they did amazingly! Bridget was Scottish so I had to dust off my Scottish accent that I’d lost completely when I was growing up but it was good to see it was still OK – I’ll leave it on my CV for now!!
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