1969 - May 28, 2018
Rockwell was born Natalie Rachel Heyde, in Columbia, Missouri. She was the daughter of songwriter/teacher Gary Heyde (aka novelist Austin Gary) and actress/teacher Glory (Kissel) Heyde. Her brother is Jeremy Spencer (Heyde), drummer for the heavy metal band Five Finger Death Punch. Rachel began to study dance with Ricki Smith Newman, Sylvia Watters and Evansville Dance Theater at age seven. By thirteen, she won a scholarship to study ballet at the National Academy of Arts in Champaign, IL.
She graduated from the School for Creative and Performing Arts (Cincinnati) and earned a BFA in Theater Performance from the University of Evansville, IN. She moved to Chicago in 1991 and began performing and choreographing. In 2001, Rockwell was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Actress in a review (And The World Goes 'Round). In 2004 she was nominated for a Jeff Award for Best Supporting Actress in a musical (The Pajama Game). She appeared on Broadway in Mamma Mia! and the national tours of Mamma Mia! and Harold Prince's Showboat.
In 2010, she was named "Best Director" by Chicago Magazine. In 2010 Rachel was named Chicagoan of the Year by the Chicago Tribune. In July 2014, Goodman Theatre (in association with Liza Lerner and Kevin McCollum) produced the first major revival of Brigadoon in two decades—directed and choreographed by Rockwell, who, with Brian Hill, updated the book, with permission from the Lerner and Loewe estates. Her productions of Ride The Cyclone and Billy Eliot were named two of the Top Ten productions in Chicago for 2015. Her U.S. premiere Chicago Shakespeare Theatre production of Ride The Cyclone was then produced Off-Broadway at MCC Theater, and named Best of 2016 by the New York Times. She directed the World Premiere of Diary of a Wimpy Kid at Minneapolis Children's Theatre in April, 2016. Rachel was also recently honored by the Sarah Siddons Society. Her production of The Sound of Music can be viewed in the New York Public Library’s Theatre on Film and Tape Archive.
Other Chicago credits include: Enron (TimeLine Theatre, Jeff Award nomination for Best Play Mid-size); 42nd Street, In The Heights, The Music Man, Annie and Hair (Paramount Theatre); Sweeney Todd (Jeff nominations for Best Musical and Best Director), Les Misérables, The Sound of Music (Jeff nominations for Best Musical and Best Director), Ragtime (Jeff Awards for Best Musical and Best Director), Oliver! (Jeff nominations for Best Musical and Best Director) and Miss Saigon (Jeff nominations for Best Musical and Best Director) at Drury Lane Theatre; 42nd Street (Jeff nominations for Best Musical and Best Director); Shout! (Jeff nominations for Best Revue); The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Jeff nomination for Best Musical), Nunsense, A Christmas Carol, Disney’s High School Musical, Seussical and Disney’s Aladdin (Marriott Theatre); Shrek, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Short Shakespeare! Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Emperor’s New Clothes (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); Leaving Iowa (Fox Valley Repertory); John and Jen (Apple Tree Theater). Ms. Rockwell served as choreographer for The King and I (Drury Lane Theatre, Jeff Nomination); A Chorus Line (Jeff nomination), The Wizard of Oz and Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? (Marriott Theatre); Up, Lost Land and The Cherry Orchard (Steppenwolf Theatre Company) and The Merry Wives of Windsor, Romeo and Juliet and Measure for Measure (Chicago Shakespeare Theater).
Rachel Rockwell died May 28, 2018 of ovarian cancer. She is survived by her husband Broadway sound designer Garth Helm and their son Jake, as well as her parents & brother.