BWW Interview: Mario Frangoulis & Frances Ruffelle
Mario Frangoulis at The Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center
Monday, November 6th. 8:00pm
Welcome and thanks for sitting with us to chat! First of all, Frances, do they still call you Frankie?
Yes, I started being called Frankie by my ex-husband John Caird.. and the Broadway Les Miz Company.. it became my NY name and it went on from there.. has stuck now for 30'years. I like having another name. My parents hate me being called Frankie. My dad and a lot of my very old friends call me Fran. I also get called Ruff or Little Ruff-Ruff... ha ha...I like that too.. Oh yeah and Truffles!
When did the two of you first work together?
We worked together in 1996 when Frances decided to return to Les Miz, at the same that I returned to the West End, as I felt it was time to reconnect with my fans in London. In any case, it was my favorite show in the whole world, and it was great to return to the show where I began my musical theater career.
Frances, what were your first impressions of Mario?
Frances: I was first struck by Mario's beautiful looks... but the voice.. oh my god I was knocked out by it. I love his classic belting tenor sound, but I also love it when Mario sings in a smokey emotional gentle jazz quality, and that always moves me deep in my heart. Then as an extra bonus Mario and I laughed together so much back stage and every Saturday night before our day off we were out on the town together. We were young and we had so much fun... we still do.
Mario: Meeting Frances was a real treat and she is a friend that I can call a friend forever. She was so cool, easy-going and extremely talented. The way she portrayed Eponine was simply unique, no one else has topped the interpretation, the simplicity of delivery, and ability to touch the audience in such a direct way. These to me are her unsurpassable qualities. I fell in love with her interpretations and her professionalism, and almost every night we just had so much fun! Every time we sang the duet 'A Little Fall of Rain' where Eponine dies in Marius' arms, it was just so emotional. Even back then, I knew I was in the presence of a great actress. It's no wonder she won the Tony award. We were fortunate to work together for eight months, over 200 performances!
In your view, how has musical theater changed since then?
Frances: I think that Musical Theater has become far more fashionable, and even cool! It wasn't really back then but I think Les Miz helped shape things. Everyone seems to want to be in Musical Theater now and it's so lovely to see the movie world moving back to making musical films again.
Mario: I believe it has evolved and developed, and there are now many great young writers as well, such as Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) who have re-imagined the genre in a certain way. However, I must admit that my heart always warms when I see great revivals of Miss Saigon and Les Misérables as these were musicals very close to my heart. I'm a sucker for revivals and great "classic" shows that are revived for younger generations to enjoy, such as Sound of Music and Sunset Boulevard that I recently saw with Glen Close.
You both have had long and successful solo careers. Frances you have done quite a bit of musical theater in London, but we have not had the pleasure of seeing you on the stage much in NYC? So, two questions: How come? And... what role do you think you would return to the NY stage for?
I moved back to London after my run on Broadway to raise my family. I have three children. Although I wanted to work back on Broadway, it wasn't really an easy option with a family in London and no green card. But I always knew I would return and so I waited for my babies to grow up and live their own lives and here I am after 30 years! A new challenge and a new home and country. I applied and received a green card and after performing Queenie in LaChiusa's The Wild Party in London I moved permanently to New York. I am performing my one woman show "Frances Ruffelle LIVEs in New York" at the Green Room 42 Sunday 12th November and I would love to mount the new production we did of the Wild Party in NY. It's directed and choreographed by the award winning Drew McOnie and it has become what I describe as a jazz opera/dance piece. It's stunning work and I get to dance a lot in it.. not many people know I can dance. I also have a play that Trevor Nunn and I are planning to do together - not sure yet if it will be in London or New York. In the meantime I am writing and producing an album with my friend and amazing record producer Mike Thorne.
Mario? Is there a role that might entice you to the Broadway stage?
I would love to perform on Broadway, but it would have to be the right role. I would love for example, to be Robert in Company by Stephen Sondheim, or to perform in some of the good old Rogers and Hammerstein musicals because I feel my voice is right for these great roles. I might even even flirt with the idea of playing the Phantom, I feel I would be right for the role.
Is there a show that you could envision the two of you doing together?
Frances: Mario and I often talk about doing a show together - whe fantasize about doing Nine, with me playing Luisa. I have always wanted to play that role.
Mario: Yes, always talked about NINE by Maury Yestin, who is an absolute genius. This is a musical that I think would be perfect for both of us. When we perform together, we always do songs from NINE and fantasize that this could one day become a reality.
Musical theater seems to have moved away from really lush, lyrical writing of late. With hard rock, hip-hop and more pop styles dominating the last few seasons. Do you think it will continue or do you see a return to more lyrical music returning to the theatrical stage?
Mario: There might be a lack of "lush music" in musicals, but there are some musicals that I saw that were just fantastic like Allegiance with George Takei and Lea Salonga. I really liked Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen and I thought Kinky Boots was a lot of fun, and a musical that made a statement. One of my favorite new musicals was A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder - it was so funny, very original and harkened back to a true theater feel where your imagination was also involved in the story!
I believe that today there has to be also be another way of approaching musical theatre - it's the message that musical theatre wants to put across in contemporary times. It's about feeling 'now' and connecting to young people's way of thinking.
I agree with you that it's worth waiting for a new Sondheim and Bernstein or a team like Kander and Ebb or an Andrew Lloyd Webber... but I do think Broadway is at its best at the moment. The houses are full and no matter what we say Broadway is Broadway!
Any surprises in store for the audience at Jazz at Lincoln Center Monday night?
Frances: Yes! I am attempting to sing a little bit of Greek... though I may be making it up as I am still waiting for Mario to send the lyrics over.. Mario?
Mario: There are always surprises! I won't reveal all the little secrets... but suffice it to say, I sing songs I have never sang before, along with some great duets with Frances that I am really looking forward to.
I know we will have a lot of theater people attending, and a lot of friends from show business. It's always fun to be back in New York - my second home - and especially at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln.
Any parting thoughts for our readers?
Mario: Thank you to all the readers of Broadwayworld.com for your amazing love and support, and for allowing me to always feel part of a Broadway family of great actors and musical performers.
We are promising a magical night on Monday, and I don't want to forget that we are performing for a very dear cause close to my heart, the Horatio Alger Association, which gives scholarships to young people who have faced tremendous adversity in their lives, who persevere and through Horatio Alger scholarships are able to realize their dreams! That's what it's all about!
Frances: Yes! Hello New York. You are exciting... daunting... terrifying... but I love you and thank you for giving me the chance to be part of your magical theatre world once again!
Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center
Monday, November 6th 8pm
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