InDepth InterView: Frances Ruffelle Talks 54 Below Shows, LES MISERABLES, Broadway, Hollywood, Upcoming Projects & More
Today we are talking to a Tony Award-winning performer known around the world for her iconic original performance as Eponine in both the West End and Broadway editions of international stage sensation LES MISERABLES, copiously convivial chanteuse Frances Ruffelle. Discussing her legacy with the iconic mega-musical and her relationship with the show's director, John Caird (who co-directed with Trevor Nunn), Ruffelle opens up about a life in the theatre, telling tales of her time spent treading the boards in the various incarnations of LES MISERABLES - winning the Tony for her Broadway performance - as well as working on the original London production of Stephen Schwartz's CHILDREN OF EDEN with Caird and fellow InDepth InterView participants Matthew Bourne and Ruthie Henshall in addition to shedding light on fascinating workshop experiences - STARLIGHT EXPRESS, SUNSET BOULEVARD and WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND among them - and her more recent roles, such as her West End run as the title character in PIAF, the Menier Chocolate Factory revival of PIPPIN and featured part making up the intricate ensemble of William Finn's entertaining revue MAKE ME A SONG, to name but a few. Ruffelle also discusses her solo album work and future recording plans and also comments upon the pop success of her daughter, UK music star Eliza Doolittle. Most importantly, Ruffelle peels back the layers on the return engagement of her successful solo show BENEATH THE DRESS and clues us in on what we can expect from her upcoming dates at celebrated cabaret venue 54 Below next week. Plus, Ruffelle fills us in on her next cabaret piece and its French inspiration, as well as shares the 411 about her new films coming out in the next couple of months - drama, horror, comedy and beyond. All of that, thoughts on Broadway versus the West End, sharing the screen with Anne Hathaway and Samantha Barks in the mega-hit big screen edition of LES MISERABLES, news on some of her upcoming screen roles, starry stories of the stars as well as much, much more in this all-access pass with a particularly lovely and lively leading lady.
More information on Frances Ruffelle's BENEATH THE DRESS at 54 Below on September 16 and 18 is available at the official website here. Also, follow Frances on Twitter here.
On Her Own
PC: What can we expect from the return engagement of your BENEATH THE DRESS show at 54 Below coming up next week?
FR: Well, BENEATH THE DRESS is a show we've done for about four years now, and, without giving anything away, it's not really cabaret - I've always sort of called cabaret the c-word, if you know what I mean. So, it's a full show. You get your money's worth, basically! It's kind of like the story of my life - it's quite honest and real, actually. It's funny, it's crazy, it's high, it's low - and, it moves pretty quickly. And, all the songs are songs that I relate with or by singers who I admire.
PC: Will you sing "On My Own"?
FR: I don't sing "On My Own" to be honest! [Laughs.] But, who knows, I might put it in just for New York!
PC: You have such an idiosyncratic sound to your voice - is that a blessing and a curse or have you found it mostly beneficial?
FR: It is a bit odd, isn't it?! [Big Laugh.] I know people have commented on it quite a bit over the years.
PC: They used to poke fun at that sort of stuffy sound you had in the old days on some recordings.
FR: I know - and I've never been sick when I was doing a show or recording anything, really! At least not LES MIZ. But I guess that's how they hear me - or did.
PC: Before we get to LES MIZ, tell me about doing the workshop of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman's WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND.
FR: Yeah, that was amazing! It was before it ever really happened. It was the very first tryout.
PC: What role did you play?
FR: I was Candy.
PC: Oh, wow - "Tire Tracks & Broken Hearts".
FR: Yeah, yeah, yeah! Really good.
PC: Did you enjoy the score? It's certainly unique. It really rocks.
FR: Oh, yeah - I loved it. I absolutely loved it. The funny thing was that I had just given birth to my third child and Andrew said to me, "Oh, can you come and do this show for me at Sydmonton?" which is his country house; that's where we did the workshop. And, so, of course, I had to say yes! But, I was breastfeeding - newly breastfeeding - and I remember rehearsing Candy and sometimes I would look down and my whole top would be covered in milk!
PC: That's wild!
FR: Yeah, it was really not very sexy though - and, she was a really sexy character! They changed that character a lot in the final show, anyway - obviously, they must have gotten put off because of all the milk! [Laughs.]
PC: "Off Ramp Exit To Paradise" was a cool little song for that character, too. Do you remember that from the workshop?
FR: Oh, gosh, Pat - it was like eighteen years ago now! My memory is quite bad with things like that - especially with lyrics. Sometimes I will learn a whole song and know it and then someone will ask me to do it a little while afterwards and I'll say, "What song? What are you talking about?!" [Laughs.]
PC: You should bring back one of those WHISTLE songs for one of your live shows someday.
FR: That's a good idea - except I don't remember any of them! [Laughs.] I can look them up, though. I should.
PC: Another lesser-known show on your resume is Stephen Schwartz's CHILDREN OF EDEN. Do you have fond memories of that piece? "Stranger To The Rain" is such a great song.
FR: Oh, it is! It is. I loved singing that. Yeah, with CHILDREN OF EDEN, first of all, you have to know that my ex-husband John Caird directed that and wrote it with Stephen, so, of course I was involved and Stephen wrote the part for me, which was amazing - totally amazing. I remember that we spent a lot of time at Stephen's house when they were writing that together. Do you know that Stephen Schwartz has a parrot?
PC: I did not!
FR: Oh, he does! He is such a lovely, lovely man. But, anyway, him and his wife, Carole, have a parrot - or, had a parrot; I don't know how long parrots live - and it was hilarious. It used to copy Carole and it would say, [Parrot Voice.] "Steve! Phone!" This was in the days before mobile phones. It used to sing, as well.
PC: Did it sing Schwartz songs?
FR: Yes! It used to sing, [Parrot Voice. Sings.] "Day by day / Day by day / Oh, dear Lord," and all of that. And, so, then, Carole taught it "Happy Birthday" and so sometimes it would get confused and sing, [Parrot Voice. Sings.] "Happy birthday / Day by day / Happy birthday / Day by day," which was pretty hilarious. I remember laughing hysterically at the parrot.
PC: What a wonderful memory! It was a truly creative atmosphere given how awesome CHILDREN OF EDEN is.
FR: Oh, it was. Stephen and Carole are so, so lovely. I remember gathering around the piano and they'd be writing the whole show all the time and it'd be, you know, "Oh, I wrote a new song today!" and you'd hear it right there and then. It was amazing. Obviously, to find out he was writing the part with some of those great songs just for me was so lovely.
PC: What a gift!
FR: It really was. Then, I remember we opened in London and it was literally the eve of the Gulf War in 1990! It was the eve of the war, so it was basically not a good time to open at all. And, awfully, it was the first time in history that people were watching live war on their TV all the time, all day. Can you imagine? I mean, now we see it all the time and we have learned to just turn a blind eye - we have to or else we would go mad. But, I remember that we would come back from the theater every night and you would turn on the TV and there it would be, everywhere - the hideous war happening right in front of you. [Pause. Sighs.]
PC: What a vivid recollection.
FR: I literally believe that people were too busy watching the war and that's why they were not coming to the theatre. It was awful. Then, of top of that, that year we had the worst snow we've ever had - like, in decades! So, nobody wanted to come out in that, either. And, then, there were the reviews - they slated it. I mean, it lasted four months, but that was basically only on the fact that it was a good show.
PC: That set was so incredible.
FR: Oh, yeah - incredible is the right word for it! I mean, I loved being in that show, though - it was absolutely great.
PC: Do you consider that your major follow-up to LES MIZ, looking back?
FR: Well, I had done some other work between LES MIZ and doing that - I also had two children by the time I did CHILDREN OF EDEN! So, it wasn't like I was spending too much time out!
PC: Definitely not. Tell me about working with Matthew Bourne - that was his first musical.
FR: Oh, yeah - let me tell you about Matthew Bourne. I remember that I went to go see Matthew Bourne with John - he had this company; the same company that he has now, actually - and it was this very, very small company in this very, very small theatre and there were only about fifty seats or so in the theater, I think. And, I remember that there was just this incredible dancing - and quite odd, as well!
PC: He was an iconoclast right from the start, no doubt.
FR: Oh, yeah! It was very interesting - they all danced in their underpants! So, that was Matthew's company - the start of his company - and we thought he was just amazing; John and I both thought he was absolutely amazing and amazingly different. So, that's why John employed him to do CHILDREN OF EDEN - he was a complete unknown at the time, basically.
PC: What a piece of choreographic history!
FR: Yeah, yeah! It was so cool! He was so talented - and what a lovely man he is! I am so happy for him.
PC: The best.
FR: And, what he's done with his company since then is just fantastic! I love what he's done and I feel so special that we were right there - right part of it; right at the beginning.
PC: That show hasn't gotten its due, yet. "Civilized Society" didn't make it out of that version of the show unfortunately - it is such an anomalous song in Schwartz's oeuvre! It would make for a great base for a rap song, don't you think?
FR: Oh, yeah! I do! I love that one, too. You must have heard the original album then - it's really, really rare, you know! People are always asking me for it and asking me if I can get them it - the original London cast recording of CHILDREN OF EDEN. I don't even know if it even exists anymore.
PC: They bronzed out, apparently - the discs eroded.
FR: Yeah, they eroded - I've heard that, too. That's true.
PC: Besides Bourne, it was Ruthie Henshall's debut, too.
FR: Oh, Ruthie! Yes, yes - she was wonderful.
PC: Around that same period you recorded the original demos for MISS SAIGON as well as concept album. Tell me about those.
FR: Yes, I did the demos for MISS SAIGON. This is another story where I was pregnant, actually - I was just giving birth to Eliza at that time. [Laughs.]
PC: This is a theme!
FR: Yeah, I know - really?! [Laughs.] But, yeah, I remember being like two weeks out after giving birth to Eliza and in the studio doing MISS SAIGON demos for them. It was amazing. I actually think the score of MISS SAIGON is just incredible.
PC: I totally agree - every bit on the level of LES MIZ. As someone so associated with LES MIZ, can you compare the two?
FR: Yeah, I think they are equal - each in their own way. I mean, there are just the most beautiful songs in there, and those stories. I think LES MIZ was staged in just such an incredible way, though, that I don't know if MISS SAIGON beat that originally. They're going to do it again in the West End next year, as I'm sure you know. I can't wait to see it.
PC: It is so epic.
FR: It is definitely epic! I remember going to see it more than once after it opened and I absolutely loved hearing the score.
PC: You did a full-length concept album for the show, yes?
FR: Yes. They decided while we were working on the concept album that it needed re-writing - which it did - so they felt like they didn't want to release it in that form; before it was really ready. We had amazing people on the album with me, though - Laura Branigan and David Essex. They were both on the concept album.
PC: Perhaps someday it will see the light of day!
FR: If it does, when you hear it you'll think I sound like a chipmunk! [Big Laugh.]
PC: It's a whole different orchestration, too, correct?
FR: Yeah, yeah - totally different.
PC: Singing "I'd Give My Life For You" two weeks after giving birth must have been incredibly emotional.
FR: Oh, yeah - it was incredibly intense! It really was.
PC: So, what's next after your New York shows at 54 Below?
FR: Well, I am writing a new show right now that is premiering in London in October.
PC: Can you give us any hints?
FR: Well, I can tell you that I sing a Barbra Streisand song in the show as well as one in BENEATH THE DRESS because I love her!
PC: Your solo albums are so fantastic. Were you familiar with Alison Fraser's original recording of "Love Me For What I Am" from IN TROUSERS or did you come to it new?
FR: Oh, I love Alison Fraser! She's fabulous and I am a big fan of her albums. I remember I met her when I was in New York once and we had a really lovely chat. She's wonderful. But, yes, I knew the show - I know that show very well, actually.
PC: Are you a fan of William Finn's in general?
FR: Oh, yeah! I love his stuff. I don't know if you've seen it, but on YouTube there is a performance of mine where I do "Stupid Things [I Won't Do]".
PC: It's quite infamous, after all!
FR: Oh, my God! As a birthday present to me a few weeks ago my friend put it up on YouTube and showed it to me and said, "Have you seen this?! Happy birthday!" He had filmed it. It's so hilarious.
PC: What was your favorite song to sing in MAKE ME A SONG?
FR: Well, besides what's in MAKE ME A SONG, my favorite song of his is "Love Me For What I Am" - I think it's just totally beautiful; I've known it since I was about fifteen years old and I've been singing it since then. I love it. But, "Stupid Things"... I love that one, too! I just had a ball doing it in the one on YouTube - and anyone who wants to see it can just look up "Happy Birthday Frances Ruffelle" on YouTube to see it! I will tell you, though, William Finn was not pleased...
PC: What did he say?
FR: He really didn't like the way I turned it 'round! I mean, he wrote it for Elaine Stritch, so obviously it's supposed to be this very refined and very elegant lady - funny, but it's Elaine Stritch. There's no way to compete with Elaine Stritch, though - she's brilliant! So, I was like, "How can I do this in a completely different way?" and that's what I did with it! At first, he said to me, "It's not written for a stupid person! It might be called 'Stupid Things', but it's not for a stupid person to sing!" But, then, when he saw how much the audience loved it, afterwards, he said to me, "Aww, well, I guess you knocked that one outta the park!" So, in the end, he agreed that my version worked - but it took a little while! [Laughs.] It's so funny - I'm laughing now even thinking of doing it.
PC: Would you be interested in appearing in ELEGIES or another Finn show someday given your affinity for the material?
FR: Well, you know what? I know the songs and everything for ELEGIES, but I don't know ELEGIES as a show. So, I don't know what role I would play in that. I will tell you, though, that I've always wanted to play the mother in FALSETTOS - especially in MARCH OF THE FALSETTOS. I've been addicted to MARCH OF THE FALSETTOS since I was so young - still a teenager.
PC: Patti LuPone recently reportedly said that Americans shouldn't do Shakespeare and the British shouldn't write musicals. What do you think of that statement?
FR: Well, she got an Olivier Award in London for doing LES MIZ - and I didn't get one! [Big Laugh.]
PC: This is true.
FR: But, I got a Tony! So, it worked out OK for me doing a British musical on Broadway, at least.
PC: Take me on the journey of LES MIZ from London to Broadway and what sticks out most in your memory - given the circumstances, was it your love affair with the co-director?
FR: Oh, no - not at all. John actually didn't want me to go to New York with the show because he said that he wouldn't see me at all. So, I said, "I am not going to New York!" And, so, I actually didn't become involved with the New York production until the very last minute - they basically couldn't find an Eponine. It was a dream come true for me.
PC: Was Linzi Hateley or anyone else major from that era considered, as far as you know?
FR: Well, not Linzi Hateley, because she is British - it had to be an American. So, they needed to get an American to do the role and they actually offered it to Anne Marie Bobby, but she took another show called SMILE that ended up flopping. She did SMILE because it was the leading role and for LES MIZ, Eponine is an amazing role but it is a supporting role. Thank God she took SMILE, though, because they couldn't find anyone else who they wanted to do it and so they said, "Let's call in Frances," and that was it.
PC: Were you always in the ending?
FR: Yes. I was always in the ending, right from the start.
PC: Tom Hooper talks in the director's commentary on the film's DVD about Eponine not making sense in the scene.
FR: Yeah, I guess I have to kind of agree with him there in a way. I remember I would come on at the end and I would sort of think about it for a moment and be like, "Well, I'm sort of a spare part! Why am I there? I didn't even know him," I didn't even know Jean Valjean! It didn't make much sense. I mean, I kind of just take the letter to him and that's it. It was very odd that I would sort of turn up like that at the very end... glorious harmony though! [Big Laugh.] I guess it was because we all had passed away or something.
PC: Who originally sang "On My Own" in the French version of LES MIZ?
FR: It originally was Fantine's main song. I think it was called "Mon histoire" - my story. It was the big number. So, Trevor basically hired me for the show before anybody else and he wanted me to have a big ballad specifically for that part of the show. He wanted me to have that number after the interval where the audience was just getting back into their seats and then to just knock them away. So, I guess it was worth taking away from Fantine to give to Eponine to have that! Of course, that was before we had Patti involved.
PC: Were you excited about her participation in the production given her huge stateside success?
FR: Not at all, actually - I was so young! I mean, I didn't know anything about stars or agents or anything at the time - I didn't even know who she was. But, once I saw her, I thought she was amazing! I remember Trevor said, "We've got this really amazing American actress coming to play Fantine," and being really excited about it. You have to remember, we had already had EVITA in London already, so only the really inter-theatre people knew her at the time.
PC: You actually were in STARLIGHT EXPRESS just prior to your involvement with Trevor on LES MIZ, yes?
FR: Yes. Exactly. It was literally after a performance of STARLIGHT that Trevor came up to me and said, "Hey, have you any jobs after this?" and I said, "No," and he said, "Good, because I want you to do this new show for me. It's called LES MISERABLES and it's for the Royal Shakespeare Company." And, I was thinking, "What a stupid title!" [Laughs.]
PC: What a fantastic way to remember it!
FR: Yeah! I was like, "But what does that mean?!" [Laughs.] And he explained the title to me and then he asked if I would sing a song for the French composers - this Edith Piaf song. So, they thought of the character of Eponine as this street singer type character and they sort of based her on Edith Piaf, so they wanted to hear me do that kind of thing. They wanted me to do it on a Friday just before a show, at like 6 o'clock. So, I sang for them and then right after, I had to rush to the theater straight away. Then, Monday morning at ten o'clock my agent got the call saying, "We're hiring Frances to do Eponine in LES MISERABLES at the Royal Shakespeare Company," and I thought, "Oh, how great! I get to work with Trevor again!" I had not a clue what the Royal even was, I just trusTed Trevor and said, "Yeah, I'll do it."
PC: Was it scary to be in a big show that was being developed on its feet? The first preview was four hours, after all.
FR: Not really. I mean, I was so young that it was all very new to me. You have to remember, when I got STARLIGHT EXPRESS and Andrew Lloyd Webber stopped me on the way out and said "You've got the job," I didn't even know I was going to be playing a lead! I showed up to the first day of rehearsals - it was the workshop at this point when we were doing it - and it was the first time that we were ever doing it and they said, "OK. Frances is going to play Dinah and this person is doing this and that person is doing that," and I was sitting there with my mouth open - my jaw dropped. I was thinking, "Oh, my God! I can't believe I have the lead role!" I just thought I was one of the ensemble members or something.
PC: Tracey Ullman was in the workshop, as well, correct?
FR: Yes, she was! Oh, my God - I can't believe you know that! I was just a puppy then - it was so long ago now!
PC: Jane Krakowski told some tremendously funny and scary stories about the mishaps that would occur in that show.
FR: Oh, I love Jane! Jane and I actually became best mates when I was on Broadway - I was in LES MIZ and she was doing the same role I did in STARLIGHT. I remember her really being my New York buddy - we used to go out and eat chocolate cake together! [Laughs.]
PC: You also did the workshop of SUNSET BOULVEVARD - was Patti LuPone involved with it yet at that point?
FR: She wasn't, actually - Patti did the next one. I did the first one - I can't remember who did it, to be honest. Patti did it the second time. I played Betty Schaffer, but they eventually made her have a much more soprano sort of sound.
PC: On the note of ingenue into star: what do you think of Samantha Barks having a crossover career much like you had in the role of Eponine in LES MIZ?
FR: Well, I'm like a proud mum! [Laughs.]
PC: As you should be!
FR: She's fabulous. It's such a great character. But, of course, let's be honest - it's so much bigger, especially now that it's on the big screen; so much bigger than even being in the West End or on Broadway. But, yes, I do think we have had sort of a similar journey - I remember that when I came to New York with the show I was treated like quite a big star and I was really quite shocked. I mean, in London, they really don't treat you like that at all!
PC: It's a much different world.
FR: It is. I mean, I always joke that when people say to me, "Oh, you must be really in demand in London," I always say, "Aww, not really - they don't care for me much in London! New Yorkers are the ones who really like me." I love New York and I love New Yorkers and I love going to the USA. I mean, most of my fans are American.
PC: No way!
FR: Yeah, everyone on my mailing list is American! It's like eighty percent - and then there's ten percent from the UK and ten percent from the rest of the world.
PC: Why do you think they prefer you here?
FR: Well, I think it's just more that they don't like success as much so you don't hear as much positive stuff - it's all a bit twisted in Britain! [Laughs.] I'm telling you, Pat!
PC: I believe you.
FR: I think it's time for me to get my green card - I'm staying in the States!
PC: LES MIZ at the 02 and the LES MIZ film itself have been such huge international successes that you have been introduced to a whole new audience. What do you think of the new performing arts era and the way more shows are filmed now, with the instant availability?
FR: Oh, it's so interesting - and then there's the internet, as well, of course. I am yet to experience it myself apart from the LES MIZ things, though - but, I've sort of seen it, especially the way the world has embraced the LES MIZ movie. It's amazing.
PC: What do you think of reality singing competitions and the whole culture surrounding them?
FR: Well, to be honest, I don't watch them, really! It's not that I don't want to watch them because sometimes they come on when we are in the house and we end up sitting and watching them for a while. I haven't seen much GLEE, either, though I suppose I should! I have seen SMASH, though, to answer you.
PC: As every theatre fan should - at least once.
FR: Yeah, the girl who was playing my daughter in a movie I did recently had it and so I watched a lot of SMASH when we weren't shooting. I actually got sort of addicted to it!
PC: You're a sort of closeted SMASH fan, then?
FR: I actually thought the actors in it are unbelievably, unbelievably fantastic! The choreography was fantastic, too - I really loved the first series of it, at least. I haven't seen the second yet. I suppose I ought to get caught up with GLEE now, too, shouldn't I? I love the dancing on SMASH, especially.
PC: I'm curious if you see yourself as a true triple-threat - dancing as well as acting and singing?
FR: Oh, well, I don't think people really think of me that way because of LES MISERABLES and we didn't really dance at all in that. Then, of course, STARLIGHT we were on roller skates for, so I don't know if people really even thought of that as actual dancing - there's a limit to what you could do on roller skates. So, it wasn't until I did Roxie in CHICAGO that I really got to do my first dance role.
PC: Did you enjoy doing that show?
FR: Aww, I loved doing that show so much. I loved playing that role. It was comedy, really, and I love doing comedy - as people will see with that "Stupid Things" on YouTube. But, because people know me so well from LES MISERABLES, they think of me more for only the dramatic kind of things and it was hard for a while to get any comedy kind of roles. They'd say, "Oh, she can't do that - she's a ballad singer!" So, it took me a while to sort of break away to do that. I did PIPPIN in London not too long ago, as well, though.
PC: It was all set in a video game, was it not?
FR: Yes, that's right! People in Britain hate PIPPIN, though - they don't like PIPPIN, they don't get PIPPIN; Americans love PIPPIN. So, we were already thinking, "We know the critics hate the show, so we're not expecting amazing reviews," and it got mixed reviews. They were just not the reviews that it needed to cross over to America or the West End. It was an amazing production of the show, though - brilliantly funny and amazingly staged, as well. I hear the American version is incredible.
PC: Did you use the Fosse choreography?
FR: Yeah, we used the Fosse choreography except for some of my role. They used Fosse's style, but we did some different choreography.
PC: Did Stephen Schwartz see it?
FR: He came over to see it right when we were previews and I think he liked it. He was very encouraging. It's a shame he only saw it when it first got on its feet, though. It was in this tiny theater with a hundred and fifty seats - except with a million pound budget! [Laughs.]
PC: That's insane.
FR: It was kind of ridiculous! But, it was amazing to be in it. The set was absolutely beautiful. The way that they had it was that we sort of popped up through the set like invisible people and then we'd be seen in a flash. It was incredible. I think that it really could have gone further, but the British really don't like PIPPIN. I know they filmed the show, but I guess it was just for the archives or whatever. I'd love for people to be able to see it.
PC: In speaking of all the modern theatrical giants, have you ever sung Sondheim?
FR: Well, I have sung Sondheim, but I haven't ever been hired professionally to sing Sondheim, which is really crushing! But, let me tell you a story about him: I was invited to a party at Cameron Mackintosh's house - he lives right by me, actually - and, so, it was just the most incredible party. I remember I was chatting away with Trevor Nunn and then he goes, "Oh, there's Stephen!" And, he pointed right over at Sondheim. And, so, I said, "Aww, I don't really know him!" And, he said, "Let's go over!" And, I said, "No, you go! You go!" And, Trevor goes, "Are you kidding? You don't know Stephen Sondheim? Come on!" And so he persuaded me to go over and say hello and Stephen was absolutely gracious and gorgeous and he used my name several times in several sentences which really made me feel welcome and was quite lovely.
PC: That's always a good sign!
FR: Then, there was the cabaret! Maria Friedman sat us all down and she started to sing "Side By Side" and she managed to make it over to his table in time and Stephen actually sang it into the mic with her. You know, [Sondheim Imitation. Sings.] "Side by side!" And it was like tingles went all the way up my body. I cannot explain the way that it felt to see Stephen Sondheim sing his own song just for fun at Cameron Mackintosh's house. The whole audience felt it - it was in the air. There was about a hundred people there - it wasn't a very small party. It was the most incredible thing. He was so lovely.
PC: What a remarkable memory to have of him.
FR: Oh, well, my sister, actually, is the biggest Stephen Sondheim fan on the planet - a massive, massive fan - and she wrote to him after she saw MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG when she was 14 and he sent her back the most beautifully written card. She had it on her mantelpiece forever. What a lovely man.
PC: What about playing in Mrs. Lovett in SWEENEY TODD someday?
FR: Oh, SWEENEY TODD is just beautiful! Since you said it, I have to say that I think Mrs. Lovett would be the absolute perfect role for me. Nobody ever thinks of me as being that, but, maybe now that Helena Bonham Carter has done it more people will think of that for me, but, before that, I don't think people would ever think of me as obvious casting for that. I never like obvious casting anyway, though, do you?
PC: Definitely not.
FR: As far as Sondheim roles go, though, I'd love to do A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. I'd love to sing "Send In The Clowns". I saw Judi Dench do it and I will never forget it - it was so beautiful.
PC: PIAF has been a recent staple of your repertoire. Do you particularly enjoy returning to the street singer milieu?
FR: Oh, well, PIAF has been my most challenging role and I am going to be doing it again next year, actually. I am really looking forward to that. I have been doing quite a few TV and film things, too. I basically stopped doing TV and film for like ten years and I just did theatre but I just recently started back into TV and film - I have two movies coming out next year.
PC: You have a lead role THE DEVIL'S TOWER, do you not?
FR: Yes, DEVIL'S TOWER is a horror/comedy. I have to admit, I am not a horror fan, really, but I guess I am going to have to start going to see more of them now. I play this really bitter and sort of twisted mother in it - it's a really great role. I become a zombie in it, too - I'm the main zombie, actually. [Laughs.]
PC: Was the make-up application process particularly cumbersome?
FR: Oh, it was so much fun! It was really, really difficult make-up, though - like an hour and a half, two hours in the chair to put it all on.
PC: What can you tell me about your other film projects?
FR: Well, I'm playing a lot of mothers these days. I've actually just done another movie where I play the mother of the main character - LONG FORGOTTEN FIELDS I think is the title; it was called something else before that. I have another mother in a movie coming up, but it isn't confirmed yet so I don't want to be saying anything - but, I can tell you that I am supposed to play the mother of a singer in the movie and the mother doesn't sing! How crazy is that?! I said, "How can you not have me singing!" But, she's anti-singing, actually; she's against singing.
PC: On that topic, I also wanted to ask you about the success enjoyed by your pop star daughter Eliza Doolittle. Did you always embrace her pursuit of a showbusiness career?
FR: Aww, she's doing great! She's got a new song out now and it's doing really well! It's really fantastic. I am so proud of her - we both are. I mean, I remember when she said to me, "I want to be a pop singer," and I thought, "Oh, God!" but I told her that if she wanted to be serious about being a pop singer that she should start writing her own songs, so she did.
PC: As you yourself did once.
FR: Right. So, she started writing songs and she wrote so much that she ended up landing a publishing deal pretty quickly once she starting doing her own songs out and about - and landing a recording deal after that. She worked really hard to get that, though - she worked so, so hard.
PC: What about a new solo album for you sometime soon?
FR: I know! I know. I have to do a new one. I am hoping to do one next year, hopefully, in London. We'll see. I am doing a new show in October called PARIS ORIGINAL, so hopefully we will do a recording associated with that.
PC: By the way, what's your secret to stay looking so fabulous?
FR: Aww, that's so sweet! I don't really have a secret. [Pause.] I guess I would say red wine - red, never white! [Laughs.]
PC: I must say, MACK & MABEL: IN CONCERT is another fabulous classic performance of yours, while we're touching on your highlights.
FR: I was actually pregnant with Eliza when I did that - yeah, that was a lot of fun, too. I met Jerry [Herman] and I remember when I was in New York once, Jerry picked me up and we went to go see a production of MACK & MABEL with Paige O'Hara as Mabel and he said to me, "I want you to see this because I really want you to play Mabel," but it never ended up happening. How fun is that, though? Jerry's a wonderful man.
PC: So, one last thing: would you ever think of playing Madame Thenardier?
FR: Never! There's your quote, Pat: never! [Big Laugh.]
PC: This was absolutely delightful, Frankie. Thank you so much.
FR: Aww, thank you so much, too, Pat. This was fabulous. Have a lovely day. Bye bye.
View a preview of Frances Ruffelle's BENEATH THE DRESS below.
Photo Credits; Walter McBride, Dewynters, etc.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro