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Ruthie Rearranged

Ruthie Rearranged

By Paul Johnson

Musical theatre star, Ruthie Henshall, is probably one of those performers who has – to coin a phrase – done it all. Over a glittering thirty-three-year career, Ruthie has played some of the biggest shows in West End history including Les Misérables, Crazy For You, Chicago, Cats, Miss Saigon, Oliver!, A Chorus Line, She Loves Me, Peggy Sue Got Married, Marguerite, Putting It Together, Billy Elliot… the list goes on. In Chicago, she’s played Roxie, Velma and Mama Morton (the only British actress to play all three roles.)
Following some initial dates last summer in Sidney, Australia, Ruthie was due to play four concerts back here in April, visiting Leicester, Manchester, London and Dublin. However, after the dates were cancelled (obviously) the performer has been able to rebook the same four venues in the same cities next March.
In July, Sardines intended to speak with Ruthie about her rearranged concerts and, even though we did manage to cover some of the details, she was far more concerned with the current state of the theatre industry… much to her credit…

It’s a mad, mad world isn’t it?” could be Ruthie’s understatement of the year, before continuing: “I have no doubt that eventually things will get back to normal, whatever that ‘normal’ is. We’ll either find ways around it or we’ll find a vaccine. So one way or another we’ll get there; theatre will always survive. People will always want to be entertained, they’ll always want to go and see something that will change the way they feel.”

After thirty-three years as a professional, the West End star is in no doubt as to the seriousness of the current practicalities facing her profession. “I don’t think we’ll see the theatre industry for a while,” she tells me sadly. “I just don’t see how it will work. I see The Mousetrap is opening, but it takes a few pence to put that show on every night so they can afford to do it and have their audience socially distanced. Sadly, there will be shows in the West End that simply won’t come back. It’s devastating. It’s only the long-runners that will be able to continue because they’ve already made back their initial investment.”

Ruthie agrees that social distancing will only be possible if producers of young shows are happy to take a hit. “Well, the producers and the theatres are taking huge hits but, bearing in mind how long that show’s been running [The Mousetrap], they haven’t got anything to recoup any more. And shows like The Mousetrap were never full every night anyway, so there will be a certain amount of space to spread the audience out.”

The Government’s infamous rescue package [£1.57bn] for the arts hasn’t fooled anbody either. “I know it sounds like a lot,” says Ruthie, “…but it will probably translate into about 5p per venue because we’re not just talking about theatres. When you include art galleries, and all the rest, up and down the country…” she doesn’t even need to finish that sentence to get her point across.

I attempt to get Ruthie to chat about her own rearranged concerts (well, we have been writing about them for eight months) but the actress’s focus soon shifts after I ask how much of a relief it has been to rearrange all four dates to next March. “Well it is, as long as we are through this by the time it comes round again,” replies Ruthie as she looks ahead to the spring. “It’s so hard to even comprehend how theatre can open again; it really is day by day at the moment isn’t it. Before that comes to pass, a lot of people will have lost their jobs and will be looking for alternative careers. I mean, it’s how everyone pays the mortgage or the rent. If somebody was in a show at the time of lockdown then it’s possible they might have been furloughed and can continue to be paid, but there are a lot of actors who are out of work and were out of work at the time. There’s nothing they can do, unless they are lucky enough to be able to get something from the government.”

“When you think about all the students that were coming out of theatre school this year…” she tells me, remembering her own early days. “…there have been no showcases, and they are literally coming out into a business that isn’t there anymore. I really feel for them. If that was me now instead of thirty-odd years ago it would have really crushed me. I really had a let-me-at-it attitude and I couldn’t wait. Honestly, I can’t imagine how they all feel. When you think of the training; it’s not just the three years you have to do at college. It’s probably also most of their childhood too. I was dancing from a very young age; you are training for that career from as young as ten years old or something like that. My heart goes out to them.”

To her great credit, Ruthie’s long and successful career has given her the ability to step back and empathise with the whole industry. Nevertheless I ask about the concerts again, this time whether she needs to keep rehearsing throughout such a lengthy lay-off… “Yes, I keep rehearsing because we have a show that’s been put together, is Ruthie’s answer. “Mind you, because of everything that’s going on you do keep thinking and therefore chop and change bits and pieces; you might find a new song or say to yourself, ‘I want to do that.’ So odd things will change, but to be honest there’s really little point being over prepared until we know what’s going on.”

In that case this year one might end up changing the entire show! “Not yet,” laughs Ruthie. “Also, things tend to evolve as you go round and perform in the different venues. In Australia there were certain things we cut and changed, because as you do the show you quickly realise what works, such as the running order. You might want to put a certain song to the end because it has a big impact, or an opening number might not be doing it for me.”

Ruthie also informs me (just like we amateurs) “With a tour you don’t get the luxury of previews as you would with a show; you don’t get an audience until your first night. So if something doesn’t ‘land’ tonight you don’t do it tomorrow.”

Over the years, I’ve found that the most successful performers genuinely still love what they do, so I’m not at all surprised by Ruthie’s answer to my next question. Will such a long lay-off make her nervous to get back onstage? “It’s not so much ‘nervous’ for the wrong reasons. It’s more like ‘excited’ for the right reasons,” that might be the perfect response! “I really will feel like that student again; so it’ll be more like, ‘Let me at it!’ The theatre is my church and at the moment it’s very, very strange not to be around it, around the people.”

Ruthie goes on to mention her trusty musical director: “That’s one of the things I miss the most… all those wonderful people with whom I come into contact and make me laugh. My MD, Paul Schofield, for instance is quite brilliant. In Australia he actually got his own reviews! He does my arrangements, and keeps me entertained too.”

I ask Ruthie to take a brief look back over her illustrious career and I wonder if any sought-after roles have eluded her. “I have no regrets,” is her succinct-yet-fitting reply. “I’ve been doing it for so long now that I feel everything I’ve done so far has led me to where I’m supposed to be. Definitely no complaints, in fact it’s a privilege to have been through this career. There are certainly no more roles in Chicago, ha ha! I’ve been a bit greedy there.”

I interviewed Ian Kelsey for a past cover story, not all that long ago, and I remember him talking to me about his time in Chicago. I wonder if Ruthie and Ian ever crossed paths (or boards)? “YES! He was an absolute hoot,” I’m secretly thrilled to hear (can you imagine if they hadn’t got on?) “I left him onstage once during one of my career bloopers,” Ruthie remembers before explaining. “I was chatting and having a laugh with somebody at the side of the stage one night and I totally mistimed my entrance, leaving Ian onstage all on his own. He was so lovely about it, even though, that’s the worst thing you can do as a performer. He’s just brilliant and I loved working with him. Ian’s a real company member too, he’s there for everybody.”

Earlier on Ruthie mentioned graduating from drama school. The school in question was Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom, and just the mention of it instantly takes the West End veteran back in time. “Laine’s is an amazing school, “she beams. “I was part of that new musical theatre course, because before that it was only a dance school. I have wonderful memories of my time there.” And like all ‘Lainees’ (Kerry Ellis and Louise Dearman spring to mind), Betty Laine commands the ultimate level of respect. “She’s an incredible woman, and really prepares you for the business much more than anybody else could,” Ruthie tells me. “I’m still in touch with my whole year. In fact we still all get together. When we talk about ‘Miss Laine’ now, there are still people who get very reverent, perhaps even a little fearful. I don’t know how that school could ever go on without her and remain the same; she’s the heartbeat of that place.”

Whether you’re destined to be a musical theatre star or a comedy actress like Sarah Hadland (another Lainee), the Epsom school is able to spot your talent, as Ruthie tells me: “Miss Laine has also created so may brilliant performers who are all so well-rounded; my fellow students from my year for a start. She sees your essence and nurtures it. And that’s a gift in itself; in show business – and theatre – it’s not ‘one size fits all’.”

Before leaving, I briefly ask Ruthie about her Bromley roots – having spent many a happy hour at Bromley Little Theatre myself. I wondered if Ms Henshall also performed on an amateur basis – after all, Jude Law once trod BLT’s boards as a teenager. “Yes, absolutely, although I’m probably more familiar with the Churchill Theatre,” she says. Now why didn’t I see that coming! “I did The Pied Piper of Hamlyn there with the youth group. I loved growing up in Bromley.” That’s good then. And with that, one of the most genuine people in the theatre business drifted away.

As long as we’re all back to normal by next March, Ruthie Henshall will be performing four concerts in the UK.

For tickets and more info, visit:

Curtain Up on a New Radio Station Dedicated to Musicals

Curtain Up on a New Radio Station Dedicated to Musicals

In the last five years theatre attendances have soared by 2.2m to 34.5m people annually, more than the total attendance for every live music concert or festival in a full year and more than double the attendance for every Premier League match combined in a full season.

The musicals genre is busting out of theatres to have an even greater impact on popular culture with original movies like The Greatest Showman, Rocketman and La La Land becoming huge hits at the box office, whilst iconic shows Cats and Wicked transfer to the silver screen and classic musical movie Moulin Rouge heads to the stage, demonstrating a surge in popularity for the genre.

Magic at the Musicals will celebrate of the best musicals from both stage and screen, with a playlist including hits like the electrifying And I Am Telling You from Dreamgirls and Defying Gravity from Wicked alongside classics such as Cats’ Memory and Les Misérables’ Bring Him Home. Listeners will be treated to a huge range of musicals from the beloved Mamma Mia! to the anthemic The Greatest Showman and the vintage Singin’ in the Rain.

The station’s line-up will include West End legend Ruthie Henshall (Chicago, Cats) and Olivier Award-winning Jonathan Bailey (TV: Broadchurch, Doctor Who, W1A; stage: Company), Louise Dearman (Wicked) John Owen-Jones (The Phantom of the Opera), alongside Julian Bird (CEO, UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre) and special shows from Luke Evans (film: Beauty and the Beast, Clash of the Titans; stage: Rent, Miss Saigon), Michael Ball (Aspects of Love) and Alfie Boe (Les Misérables).

Commenting on the launch, presenter Ruthie Henshall said, “The station’s name is derived from our hugely successful Magic at the Musicals show which is in its fifth year at the Royal Albert Hall. From a vibrant theatre and cinema scene there’s never been a better time to bring this much-loved genre to the masses. We’ll be proudly broadcasting songs from the shows directly into households across the country. Singing out loud is optional!”

Julian Bird, Chief Executive of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre says “This is a fantastic boost for the industry at a time when theatregoing is at an all-time high. Magic is already our partner on the Olivier Awards, West End Live and other theatre and production projects, so this feels like a perfect platform to promote theatre, and musicals in particular.”

Magic at the Musicals will feature a season of programming to celebrate the creativity, diversity and opportunity in modern British theatre. Telling the stories of those involved, it’s set to shine a light on both the diversity of talent and the many opportunities the industry offers – both on-stage and off – to people from all backgrounds. The station will also broadcast The Olivier Awards live in full, cover West End Live – produced by Westminster City Council and Official London Theatre, in Trafalgar Square and broadcast its own event, Magic at the Musicals live from the Royal Albert Hall in May 2020.

Magic at the Musicals Launches on 21 November on DAB+ in London, East & South East of England and nationwide online, via listen apps and smart speakers.

Programming Schedule:

  • Backstage: Weekdays at 11am introduced by Alice Arnold where we hear from a star of the stage.
  • Matinee: Weekday ‘Matinee’ performance starts at 2pm. Two songs from a ‘Golden Oldie’ show introduced by Tom Chambers.
  • Curtain Up: Weekdays at 7pm – a daily hour-special brought to you by various West End performers choosing their favourite songs from the musicals.
  • Curtain Call: Weekdays at 10.30pm, when each night we’ll play the finale number from a show. That big showstopper that brings the curtain down and the audience to their feet.
  • Stage Door: Saturdays at 2pm we go behind the Stage Door with Ruthie Henshall as she lets us into the world of theatre behind the scenes.
  • Limelight: Saturdays at 6pm, we’ll be in the ‘Limelight’ with our hour-specials, starting with Luke Evans, Ball and Boe and Patricia Kelly (wife of Gene).
  • Green Room: Sundays at 3pm, the ‘Green Room’ with Julian Bird, CEO of SOLT, updating us on everything we need to know in the world of theatre.
  • Take Your Seats Please! Sunday nights at 6pm, ‘take your seats please’ for more great names from the world of theatre talking us through the soundtrack to one of their favourite musicals. Our first shows will be from theatre legends John Owen Jones and Louise Dearman.