In this episode of The Show People Podcast, host Andrew Keates is joined by Tony Award-winning actor and recording artist Frances Ruffelle.
Not long left to see two Off-West End musicals I can recommend: The Wild Party at The Other Palace and The Sorrows of Satan at Tristan Bates Theatre. Here’s why I think you should.
There is an incredible array of top talent assembled – powerful singers, athletic dancers and intelligent actors – but The Wild Party lacks the wit and humour of Chicago so that its effect is limited because the book is so thin.
Drawn from Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 poem of the same name the show is an unrelenting tale of bastardry in 1920s New York. Frances Ruffelle’s Queenie and her husband Burrs are a pair of fading Vaudeville artistes.
March’s jazz-age tale of a tempestuous couple holding a gathering to end all gatherings allows for a real parade of vivid caricatures to come passing through in search of gin, blow, sex and some defining characteristic or other.
Poetry dramatised: for me, the real strength in Mingled Yarn Theatre’s staging of The Wild Party is in providing a platform for Joseph Moncure March’s full, unadulterated poem.
This list is looking a little further afield to shows I hope to get to throughout the year from Bolton to Manchester, Sheffield, Woking and several Off-West End and fringe venues.
Full casting is announced today for Michael John LaChiusa’s THE WILD PARTY, which receives its first major London production at The Other Palace, playing from Monday 13 February to Saturday 1 April 2017, with a press night on Monday 20 February. THE WILD PARTY will be the inaugural production at The Other Palace, formerly St. James Theatre, when it reopens in February …
Michael John LaChiusa’s The Wild Party will receive its first major London production at The Other Palace, playing from Saturday 11 February to Saturday 1 April 2017, with a press night on Monday 20 February. It’s directed and choreographed by 2016 Olivier Award winner Drew McOnie and stars Tony Award winner Frances Ruffelle.
A packed Battersea Barge saw Evelyn Hoskins deliver a slick and intimate cabaret. Elfin / gamine / diminutive – take your pick of the adjectives, Hoskins’ looks famously belie her age and for a show titled There Was A Little Girl she not unreasonably opened her set, clad in a tightly fitted and collared school-girl outfit.
Like a fine cognac, Frances Ruffelle’s most recent album deliciously distils her passion for France. Remembering that it was Ruffelle who created the role of Eponine in Les Miserables, a show that was to evolve into one of musical theatre’s few truly global sensations, that she is in love with all things French is hardly a surprise.
The term ‘icon’ is often freely used with little regard for it’s true definition – however from last night’s gig at The Crazy Coqs, Frances Ruffelle clearly merits the title. The Tony Award winner is an acclaimed stage and recording artist who originated the role of Eponine in the legendary Les Miserables (which “On Its Own” might qualify her for icon status), but it’s also her electrifying authenticity that radiates from her in every part of her performance that makes her truly special.
This week I had another birthday — but it wasn’t any birthday: Scott Alan threw a public birthday bash for me. And it was the best of my life!
St James Studio, London
Making a rare appearance in front of the microphone, Paul Baker’s show A Baker’s Dozen was a polished one-nighter that packed out the St James Studio.
In a set lasting little more than an hour, Baker’s magnificent tenor danced over numbers familiar and new in a set-list that was to prove pleasingly heavy on Newley numbers – reminding us that this fabulous British songwriter deserves greater exposure.
Quick to flex his magnificent belt with Streisand’s Being Good Isn’t Good Enough, Baker was soon into the first of his Taboo tributes with Stranger In This World – preceded by a touching if painful recollection of being bullied as a kid – and that his next number was a Quentin Crisp tribute, blending Sting’s An Englishman In New York, with Taboo’s Freak / Ode To Attention Seekers stayed on message in an inspired combo.
Fondly reflecting on Philip Henderson’s The Far Pavilions, the composer was in the audience to see Baker deliver a soaring take on Brighter By Far that had been re-arranged for the St James occasion.
As his selection went on to include Makin’ Whoopee, one wished for Baker to make an album of the American Songbook. The man displays a polished understanding of both lyric and presence, par excellence.
Performing solo throughout, there was one exception when director Frances Ruffelle (who had only recently been directed herself by Baker) joined him on stage for Nice from Lucky Stiff, a duet that reprised their 1997 pairing from the Ahrens and Flaherty show.
Maintaining a standard of nothing short of excellent, a medley of Newley greats treated the crowd to Once In A Lifetime, The Candy Man and What Kind of Fool Am I, with Baker also un-earthing Newley’s Pagliacci-esque The Man Who Makes You Laugh. As the singer sat at an onstage make-up table, donning the pierrot’s white slap and garishly rouged lips, the song’s irony was chilling.
Accompanied throughout by Alex Parker’s quintet, the music was perfectly weighted. Parker’s understanding of the subtleties of musical direction is unmatched for one so young – and under his command the evening’s musical ambience effortlessly ranged from cocktail lounge intimacy to big band bravado.
Wrapping his set with Taboo’s Petrified, a song that Baker has made his own, a few muffled sobs from the St James crowd evidenced the sensitivity of the moment.
This show is off to New York’s 54 Below later this month and Manhattan is in for a treat. The gig offers moments that are at times reflective, spectacular but most of all and for various reasons, simply spine-tingling. When he returns from the USA, A Bakers Dozen demands a longer London run.
Missed Paul in London? You can catch him at New York’s 54 Below on 19th May.
Crazy Coqs, London
Back by popular demand, Frances Ruffelle brought her song cycle of a show, Beneath The Dress, to a packed out Crazy Coqs for two nights only.
In what was to prove an eclectic, coquette-ick whirl, Ruffelle ‘s one-woman one-act set drew on a collection of mainstream and left field numbers from both sides of the Atlantic. In parts whimsical and reflective, at other times outrageously celebratory, those who know the singer well may perhaps recognise the moments that she has suggested hint at autobiography.
Ruffelle’s entrance through the crowd offered a provocative wit, with the singer soon into one of her own compositions, Hit Me With A Hot Note, proving she not only possesses one of the most gorgeously controlled and distinctively timbred voices around, her writing is neat too.
Above all, Ruffelle is one of those uber-talented women who defines the craft of acting through song. The students of today need to watch her and learn, as she imbues just the right amount of melancholy into Rodgers and Hart’s Ten Cents A Dance, whilst her take on Lilac Wine the James Shelton 1950 classic and made famous in turn (depending upon your age) by Nina Simone, Elkie Brooks and latterly Katie Melua, was revelatory. Ruffelle understands her songs intimately, coaxing newly discovered nuance and poignancy from numbers we thought we knew well.
The unpredictability to the set list mirrored Ruffelle’s cutely distinctive persona. Tom Waits’ Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis is probably not often heard amidst the art-deco swirls of the Crazy Coqs, likewise the car crash of a number that is Coffee from See What I See. Each though added to the confection of reflection that made up the night.
The show wouldn’t have been complete without a nod to Ruffelle’s most celebrated creation, Les Miserables’ Eponine and with several tributes to Piaf throughout the evening, including an enchanting mash up that saw Piaf’s classic Hymn To Love segueing in and out of Les Mis’ On My Own, it is clear to see Ruffelle has a metier that’s firmly rooted in the entente cordiale.
David Barber’s five piece band were excellent in support and as ever, producer Danielle Tarento’s commitment to excellence had ensured a polished turn. Beneath The Dress show has already toured widely and these two nights were not enough. Ruffelle fills the venue, not just with an audience but a gorgeous ambience too – The Crazy Coqs should get her back soon.
Frances Ruffelle returns to London’s Crazy Coqs at the end of this week for two nights only. Reprising her acclaimed one-woman show Beneath The Dress, it is no surprise that her Friday night gig is already sold out with only a handful of tickets remaining for Saturday.
Amidst rehearsals and preparation, I caught up with Frances for a brief chat about the show.
JB: Please tell me, what was the inspiration for Beneath The Dress?
FR: Basically I just put together a show that was about myself in a way, but also about situations that I associate with, or singers who I love, or songs that I have been influenced by and songs with situations that I associate with as well. And also it just simply celebrates women who love to entertain.
It’s really a song cycle more than a cabaret, a story of one woman, but a lot of people when they are watching it, think I am playing different characters. It’s one woman going through her life and starting out as young and excited, with her whole life in front of her and the set evolves into a much more jaded older woman at the end who is basically having to come to terms with stuff and accept life as it is.
JB: Is there an autobiographical inspiration to the show?
FR: Not exactly. But there are moments of me in the show that my friends will recognise.
JB: What is the history of the show?
FR: I first did it at Madame JoJo’s actually and then I did it in Edinburgh about five years ago. I’ve done it in New York, in Poland, a lot of places. I’d sort of felt as if the show was in my past and I didn’t expect to be doing it again, but then Ruth Leon at the Crazy Coqs who hadn’t seen it, said “Hey how about coming back to the Crazy Coqs and doing Beneath the Dress because I would like to see it”. So here I am!
I’ve added three or four different songs because I thought it would be great for audiences that have seen it before to have something else, and I actually think these songs help tell the story even more. I have refined it.
JB: Without expecting you to give away any secrets, where do the songs derive from, is it shows, is it the songbooks?
FR: From absolutely everywhere. From Cole Porter to Tom Waits, to Jacques Brel. I also have also some lyrics that I have written myself.
JB: How big is your band?
FR: We have got four pieces, we might have five we are not sure yet. I am going to decide that with David Barber, my MD. Originally the show had a six-piece band, but that’s too much for the Crazy Coqs. Making sure that the show perfectly fits the venue is very important to me.
JB: And who is producing or directing you?
FR: Well Danielle Tarento always produces me and originally I had taken direction from Paul Baker. Paul and I have played opposite each other three times in three different productions including my Roxy to his Amos in the West End. He directed me at the Edinburgh Festival and has been really really helpful and amazing as Beneath The Dress has evolved. Funnily enough, I am going to be directing his one man show later this year as well.
JB: I recall that in your last appearance at the Crazy Coqs in your Paris Original cabaret, the show included several gorgeous costume changes. How many changes of dress make up Beneath The Dress?
FR: [laughs] Four!
JB: Sounds fabulous and I am looking forward to seeing the show. Thanks so much for sparing the time to talk!
Frances Ruffelle performs in Beneath The Dress at the Crazy Coqs on Friday April 10 (sold out) and Saturday April 11