We had a brief moment during rehearsals for The Wild Party to talk to British Musical Theatre star Frances Ruffelle about new musicals, The Wild Party and her attraction to new talent.
What Is The Wild Party About?
It’s a very debauched poem written in the 1920’s at a time when prohibition forced people to hold parties in their own homes with drug taking, bath tub gin and a lot of free love.
It’s about a racy 24 hours in the life of New York chorine Queenie. She’s unsatisfied with her life. Having come to New York to make it big, she’s now stuck with her lover Burrs who is violent and nothing has quite worked out as she planned.
Unhappy, she gets her fulfilment from multiple lovers and partying her life away. In the midst of the partying, she has a revelation that she needs to find her own happiness.
How did you come to meet Michael John La Chiusa and land the role of Queenie?
Michael John La Chiusa came to my show in New York. I’d been a big fan and I sing some of his songs in my solo show. Maury Yeston had bought him and it was so nerve-wracking to have them both in the audience. I’m sure I made up half the words.
I met him and asked why The Wild Party hadn’t been seen in London and to cut a long story short he asked if I wanted to be his Queenie? He said I trust you to find the right team to do this.
Throughout your career, you’ve been involved in originating new musicals. You were involved in the Sunset Boulevard workshops and helped with the vocal demos for Miss Saigon as well as appearing in shows like Children Of Eden. What is it that attracts you to new musicals?
I love working on new musicals, I worked on the A to Z Of Mrs P with Gwyneth Herbert, we became friends and we work together and write together. As life goes on, I found that I love working with young people and encouraging new talent. I love the excitement that young people have and I wanted to keep that excitement as I get older. I find that now I don’t tend to do things for money, obviously, money is nice, but I do the things I want to do that challenge me, even down to a few low budget movies with new young teams and that’s exciting. They really want to be there, no one is there for the money.
The group I’m working with on the The Wild Party are like that. They all want to be in the room. There are a few cast members I’ve not come across before and I was literally knocked out by the talent. You see someone who is incredible and then moments later they are topped by someone else and so it goes. The talent level here is just phenomenal.
It’s a bizarre, wonderful experience and restores my faith in new creative projects. From what I’m seeing in the rehearsal room, I don’t think there is anything in London that is anything like this and that excites me.
I was 19 during rehearsals for Les Miserables. I was a lucky beginner. Starting in a children’s musical at age 16 in the West End in the theatre where The Other Palace now stands, then I did a play with Omar Sharif, then the original company of Starlight Express then went straight into Les Miserables.
No one knew Les Miz would be such a big hit.
How did it feel to be selected along with Colm Wilkinson to go to Broadway with that show and ultimately win the Tony Award for playing Eponine?
Originally it was going to just be Colm. They cast another Eponine and at the last minute she turned it down so they flew me over. The other girl’s show closed within a week. I got the call on a Friday and flew over on Monday. I’m now forever associated with the role of Eponine, at times it can be a burden but then you realise just how many good things the role bought me and you realise how lucky you are. Donna McKechnie and I spoke about it and she gets it having originated the role of Cassie in A Chorus Line, you are blessed to be associated with very special roles in very special shows
And what does the future hold?
I don’t set my hopes on anything. I do like characters like Desiree in A Little Night Music, and having seen Julia McKenzie play Miss Adelaide at the National Theatre about twenty times I’ve always wanted to play Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, but I’m enjoying working on new shows
In the eighties, there was so much money thrown at musicals. Sets cost a fortune, but I do believe that if it’s done right you don’t need a huge amount, the material can carry a show.
The Wild Party opens tonight at The Other Palace