Diva Friday: Ruthie Henshall

Lets take a trip to over the pond to the West End for this week’s Diva Friday, shall we?


Ruthie Henshall. She’s the brunette soubrette who can’t seem to land a hit show of late. I would compare her West End career to that of Bette Midler’s relationship with Hollywood: Supremely talented women, disappointing career choices.

Among her many talents, the one I most enjoy is her ability to sing complete phrases through clenched teeth. It’s a wonder! She does it in spades here:

Not only is she a skilled actress and singer, she’s also a trained dancer — her background is ballet. As a result, she’s one of only a hand-full of actresses who’ve played BOTH Roxie and Velma in the revival of Chicago. She originated Roxie in the London production of the revival, and came to Broadway for a short stint to play Velma and star in Putting it Together opposite Carol Burnett.

Ruthie as Roxie:

Ruthie as Velma:

Personally, I think she’s more suited to play Velma, as she’s an athletic, darkly alluring performer.

Ruthie got her start playing all the West End ingénue roles: Polly in Crazy for You, Amalia in She Loves Me, and, strangely, as Grizabella in Cats when she was in her teens.

She then moved on to star in Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil musicals: Miss Saigon as Ellen and Les Misérables as Fantine. Many consider Ruthie’s “I Dreamed a Dream” as definitive. I’ve heard better (not Boyle’s); I’ve heard worse (Boyle’s.)

As for her recent string of West End flops? Well, first there was the musical version of Peggy Sue Got Married in 2001. It was panned and ran just over two months.

Then, she took over the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most recent transatlantic flop, The Woman in White, when star Maria Friedman went to NYC to open — and quickly close — the show on Broadway.

She followed that up with the highly anticipated Marguerite — a musical adaptation of the story of a famous French courtesan and mistress. (La Traviata basically shares the same storyline.) Though warmly received by critics, the show shuttered at a financial loss. But she looks stunning in the role, no?

Henshall as Marguerite

Lately, she can be seen on BBC and ITV1, performing or serving as judge in musical specials and reality casting programs. I guess it’s a nice gig when you’re a recent mother with two small children.

Ruthie is a real treasure, and I hope she can find the stage success she enjoyed in the 90s.

And now, my favorite Ruthie Henshall performance, from Putting it Together. (Sorry the video quality is so terrible.) Take it, Ruthie!

Visit previous Diva Friday columns.

3 thoughts on “Diva Friday: Ruthie Henshall

  1. She’s really terrif, I think I’ve seen her on stage more than any other performer (Chicago as Velma AND Roxie [she’s a better Vel than Roxie btw], Oliver!, Putting it Together the last performance that was filmed in the clip you attached, and some months ago in Marguerite).

    BTW haven’t you noticed that there is a pattern where she ends up playing a prostitute or a kept girl that ends up dead (Oliver!, Les Miz, Marguerite)?

  2. How amazing is that “All that jazz” performance. I adore Ruthie, and am one of those who think she’s the best Fantine ever. She’s got a powerful voice, and she acts the hell out of it, too. All around, a class act. (And her “More” is sensational!!)

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