You could be forgiven for expecting Frances Ruffelle to be French. After all, her latest album, I Say Yeh-Yeh features a number of French songs and she has played many French roles on stage. Then of course there’s her Gallic-sounding name.
You possibly know her best however for originating the role of iconic waif Eponine in the original London production of Les Misérables, for her anthemic hit single Lonely Symphony, or for recently playing Naomi, Dorien Green’s vicar daughter in ITV comedy Birds Of A Feather. But Frances is a recording artist at heart, with five solo albums and a series of 5-star sellout UK and US live performances to her name. Oh, and she is British, born in Essex.
As a singer/songwriter Frances has released the albums Fragile (produced by Guy Chambers), Frances Ruffelle (an album of torch songs from the 16th century to the present day, produced by Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp), Showgirl and Imperfectly Me. She also recorded the meditative album Purify, based on ancient Sanskrit mantras as one half of duo PaTala. I Say Yeh-Yeh, her new, fifth solo album showcases her collaboration with renowned singer/songwriter and producer Gwyneth Herbert as she puts a unique, earthy and at times mischievous spin on some of the best – and lesser – known French songs.
Following the success of her widely acclaimed solo Beneath The Dress concerts at the Edinburgh Festival and in London in 2014, Frances took the show to legendary venue 54 Below in New York, for a series of sold out performances. Later that year she premiered her follow-up show Paris Original at The Crazy Coqs, London, with an updated version of Beneath The Dress selling-out the same venue in March 2015. Following five dates performing I Say Yeh, Yeh in its entirety to celebrate the album’s release, at Crazy Coqs in October 2015, Frances also took the show to Washington DC, New York, and again in London in 2016. More dates to be added for 2017.
Aside from her own albums and live performances, Frances’ is famed for creating the character of Eponine in the original London RSC production of Les Misérables (for which composers Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil wrote the legendary number On My Own especially to suit her voice). She went on to recreate the role on Broadway where she won a coveted Tony award, Helen Hayes award, Theatre World award and Outer Circle Critics award for her performance. It seems fitting then, as Les Misérables celebrates its 30th anniversary in the West End, Frances reinterprets On My Own and introduces us to L’Un Vers L’Autre, a song originally written for Eponine that didn’t make into the show.
Frances’ first hit the London stage in Terence Rattigan’s play The Sleeping Prince with Omar Sharif, before starring as Dinah in the original production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. Numerous stage adventures have followed, including creating the role of Yonah in director John Caird’s West End production of Children of Eden, playing opposite Ian Dury in Apples at the Royal Court and starring as Roxie Hart in Chicago at London’s Adelphi Theatre.
More recently, Frances was able to explore her love of French chanteuse Edith Piaf, playing the title role in Pam Gems’ play Piaf at the Curve Theatre, Leicester, for which she received a UK Theatre award nomination.
Frances’ film career includes a cameo appearance as a ‘Whore #1’ in Tom Hooper’s Oscar-winning big-screen version of Les Misérables (2012), where she was one of only two original West End cast members invited to take part in the movie (the other being original Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson). She also appears in the films Devil’s Tower (2014), Hide (2014).
Alongside the release of I Say Yeh-Yeh, Frances appears in a short film produced by Sadie Frost, which features her album track Bang, Bang.
With a multi-faceted career spanning recording to live performance to theatre to TV to film, who knows how Frances Ruffelle will surprise us next?
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