Ruthie Henshall Gets Another "Stonker" of a Role in Chicago

Ruthie Henshall Gets Another "Stonker" of a Role in Chicago Polly in Crazy For You
Fantine in Les Miz
Nancy in Oliver!
Aphra in Children of Eden
Roxie in Chicago...

http://images.playbill.com/photo/f/e/fe_88790.gif

Polly in Crazy For You
Fantine in Les Miz
Nancy in Oliver!
Aphra in Children of Eden
Roxie in Chicago...

"In 10 years I haven't had a day out of work in London," Ruthie Henshall says in our July 27 interview at the New York offices of the Writers & Artists Agency. The 30-year-old actress/singer/dancer is in town to help launch BMG/RCA Victor's London cast recording CD of Chicago, released July 28. She's playing Roxie Hart in the West End through November.

Come January 1999, however, her work streak in the UK will come to an end, but only because says she'll bring her Roxie to the Broadway production of the Kander & Ebb musical, currently at the Shubert Theatre. Henshall expects to be in the Broadway mounting for a minimum of six months. A Broadway production spokesperson said Henshall is not officially confirmed yet.

"It's the first time I'll be doing a show in New York," Henshall told Playbill On-Line, "but because I've been in the States five or six times in my life, it already feels like I'm coming home. Sometimes New York feels like the biggest sweet shop in the world; it's all here."

Henshall says she hasn't made the trans-Atlantic jump earlier, both because she's been working so steadily in Britain, and also because of the difficulty of bringing foreign actors over to work in Broadway shows. Still, she admits, "Everyone on Broadway wants to do a show on the West End, while everyone in London wants to do at least one show on Broadway." When Henshall was first approached for the role of Roxie, the vampy campy murderess of Chicago, she thought, "Oh, this is all wrong for me. I'd seen Ann Reinking do it, and I just figured I was too young. So I let it go. But then I was doing a solo show and they still wanted to fly me to New York to audition for it. And then I saw the show again and I started feeling sick, because suddenly I really, really wanted the role. And I was terrified at the audition because I wanted it so much. It's a stonker of a part!

"I love the `go get `em' attitude of Americans. In England, we have more of a polite, `you go first' way about us, which is sometimes necessary, but I just prefer the attitude over here. In England, when you're given some material to look over for a role, you familiarize yourself with it and go from there. Here, when producers give you material to study for an audition, you learn it. Which is what I did."

Well enough to win raves, in fact. But that's nothing new for the actress. She picked up an Olivier Award for best actress for her work in 1995's She Loves Me and was nominated for an Olivier for playing Polly in Crazy For You. "That's my favorite role," Henshall said. "It was the first time I was able to create a role rather than stepping into one already done. Plus, as a child I loved MGM musicals, and Crazy For You was like one of those brought to life."

That said, after a career built on Fantine and Polly and various roles in Cats, Henshall says, "I've done the ingenues now, it's time for something else. You can't be pigeonholed." Asked what new sides of herself she brings to Roxie, Henshall answered, "I think the sexy, more womanly side of me, rather than the girlish. And Roxie has vulnerability; she's fun and she's sexual. She's just discovered what it is to be a celebrity, and she can now have everything she wants... The part changes all the time. You can't churn out the same performance every night; you have to reinvent it every day."

As far as the difference between American and English audiences, Henshall echoes the usual distinction: "Americans are more outgoing, loud and demonstrative. London crowds love the show, but they sit on their hands a bit." Henshall also noted that in staging the UK Chicago, director Walter Bobbie was very concerned with getting an "American feel" -- which included making the performance "bigger and bolder." "In London and New York, Chicago requires triple-threat performers," said Henshall. "You need people in the chorus who are physically beautiful, with sensational bodies, who can dance, and sing and act."

Since Henshall fits all those descriptions, she's likely to be pegged for many musicals in the years to come, though she does hope to do more television and film work, "especially in the States." How will that affect her personal life? Well, Henshall and her boyfriend, Scottish actor John Gordon-Sinclair (Gregory's Girl), are used to a life dictated by the demands of film and theatre schedules. "John and I met while we were doing She Loves Me," Henshall said. "And at the time we held back because we weren't sure whether it was love or just the characters spilling over into life. But we realized we were in love, and we've really been inseparable since then."

"We've never had a normal life," Henshall added. "In fact, I could never tell you what my `normal day' is, they're all so different. During the Chicago months, we'll be juggling a bit, flying back and forth on the weekends."

If the opportunity came along, Henshall said she'd gladly work with Gordon-Sinclair again. Barring that, another theatre role the actress pines for is Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. "You get to dress up, of course," Henshall explains, "Plus the part calls for a lovely transformation. It's definitely another stonker of a role."

* *

 

In related Chicago news, when Henshall joins the NY cast, she'll already be preceded there by her London co-star, Ute Lemper. Lemper won an Olivier Award for her portrayal of Velma Kelly and, as reported by Variety and confirmed by the Pete Sanders press office (July 27), she'll replace Bebe Neuwirth Sept. 8.

As for other cast-members of the Broadway production, all the majors are expected to stay in place at least through Labor Day except Ernie Sabella, who flew to L.A. to tape his new TV series with Nathan Lane. Joel Grey returned to the role for four weeks, starting July 2. After Grey, joining the cast July 30 will be Tom McGowan, best known for La Bete and The Food Chain. (Grey isn't finished with Amos yet; Aug. 17 he'll start playing the role in the London company).

* Karen Ziemba (Steel Pier) is Roxie Hart until Henshall arrives in January.

* Hinton Battle is Billy Flynn, scheduled through the early fall. Reportedly, he'll then leave Chicago to play Coalhouse Walker in the national tour of Ragtime. Alan Thicke, currently playing Billy in the first national tour, will be in the Broadway company for the month of September. Battle, who won a Tony for The Tap Dance Kid and appeared in Sophisticated Ladies and Dreamgirls, took over for James Naughton Dec. 23, 1997. Battle also won a featured actor Tony for Miss Saigon.

* Marcia Lewis is still Mama and David Sabella is still Mary Sunshine, both with no plans to leave.

Currently in the NY ensemble are Michael Berrese, Leigh Zimmerman, Caitlin Carter, Michelle Robinson, Amy Spanger, Mamie Duncan-Gibbs, Darlene Wilson, Michael Kubala, Rocker Verastique, John Mineo, Bruce Anthony Davis, Jim Borstelman and David Warren Gibson.

*

As for Chicago's first national tour (the "Roxie Company"), TV's Alan Thicke plays Billy, On The Town's, Lea DeLaria plays Mama until September (when she goes into the remounting of On The Town), Belle Calaway plays Roxie, and Michael Tucci plays Amos. Stephanie Pope plays Velma. As mentioned above, Thicke will leave the company to play Billy in the Broadway Chicago for the month of September.

Upcoming dates for the Roxie Company include:
July 28-Aug. 2: Tempe, AZ: Gammage Auditorium
Aug. 4-16: Houston, TX: Jones Hall.
Aug. 18-23: Omaha, NE: Music Hall
Aug. 25-30: Milwaukee, WI: Uihlein Hall
Sept. 1-6: Green Bay, WI: Weidner Center
Sept. 8-13: Indianapolis, IN: Murat Theatre
Sept. 15-20: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: NAC Opera House
Sept. 22-Oct. 11: Detroit, MI: Opera House
Oct. 13-18: Memphis, TN: Orpheum Theatre
Oct. 20-25: Greensboro, NC: Memorial Auditorium
Oct. 27-Dec. 6: Philadelphia, PA: Merriam Theatre
Dec. 8-13: Hershey, PA: Hershey Theatre
Dec. 15-20: Rochester, NY: Auditorium Center
Dec. 22-27: Cincinnati, OH: Aronoff Center
Dec. 29-Jan. 3, 1999: Norfolk, VA, Chrysler Hall
Jan. 5-10, 1999: West Palm Beach, FL: Kravis Center
Jan. 12-17, 1999: Raleigh, NC: Memorial Auditorium
Jan. 19-24, 1999: Greenville, SC: Peace Center
Jan. 26-Feb. 7, 1999: Wilmington, DE: Playhouse Theatre
Feb. 9-14, 1999: Charlotte, NC: Ovens Auditorium
Feb. 16-21, 1999: Knoxville, TN: Civic Auditorium
Feb. 22-Mar. 14, 1999: Japan.

*

As for the Chicago second national tour, currently at L.A.'s Ahmanson Theatre, the company features Brent Barrett (Billy), Charlotte D'Amboise (Roxie), Ron Orbach (Amos) and Avery Sommers (Mama). Khandi Alexander (TV's "News Radio" and "E.R.") recently replaced Jasmine Guy as Velma. Barrett, by the way, was the first cast replacement for David Carroll in Broadway's Grand Hotel.

Here are upcoming dates for the Velma Company:
July 7-Aug. 30 Los Angeles, CA's Shubert Theatre
Sept. 1-Sept. 6: San Diego, CA
Sept. 8-13: Salt Lake City, UT
Sept 16-27: Vancouver, Canada
Sept. 28-Nov. 8: San Francisco, CA's Golden Gate Theatre.

Nov. 10-15: San Antonio, TX
Nov. 17-22: Kansas City, MO
Nov. 24-Mar. 14: Chicago, IL

According to the Peter Thompson press office, the London Chicago cast features Henshall as Roxie and Nicola Hughes as Velma. Meg Johnson plays Mama; Clarke Peters plays Billy Flynn. Nigel Planer (TV's "The Young Ones") is currently Amos, with Joel Grey coming in for four weeks, Aug. 17.

The London production was nominated for seven Olivier Awards, the most of any London show. Chicago, which won the 1997 Tony Award as Best Revival of a Musical, began its London engagement Oct. 28 at the Adelphi Theatre on London's West End, with an official opening Nov. 18. Walter Bobbie, who won a Tony Award for his direction of the Broadway revival, also directed the London production.

The next Chicago mounting will be in Australia with local actors (including Chelsea Gibb as Roxie) opening at her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne, July 4 for an open run. The staging will be co-produced by the Weisslers and Australian producers.

According to Chicago spokesperson Pete Sanders, Sept. 28, a local, German-language company will open in Vienna, Austria. Sweden will likely be the next target.

*

On Broadway, the smash $3 million revival of the Kander and Ebb musical has been a hot ticket since opening Nov. 14, 1996. The production, directed by Walter Bobbie and choreographed by Ann Reinking ("in the style of Bob Fosse"), originated as a four-performance concert staging in May at City Center's "Encores!" series devoted to rarely-heard musical scores.

Neuwirth and Naughton won Best Actress and Actor in a Musical Tony Awards for Chicago, and Reinking (who was replaced in the Broadway cast this summer by Henner) won a Tony for Best Choreographer. with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, was originally directed and choreographed on Broadway in 1975 by Bob Fosse; Fosse and Ebb co-wrote the show's book, which was based on a notorious Chicago murder trial in the Twenties.

The first Broadway production starred Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach.

*

Though rumors are bouncing off the internet, to date only two stars have been officially announced for the big-screen version of John Kander & Fred Ebb's musical, Chicago. Weeks ago, sources at Miramax films confirmed the long-speculated casting of Goldie Hawn (Roxie) and Madonna (Velma), with "further announcements forthcoming."

Marty Richards, who co-produced Chicago's 1975 Broadway premiere, is producing the film, which intends to start rolling in January 1999, according to a source at Miramax spokesperson Andrew Stengel's office (reached July 20).

Feb. 6, columnist Liz Smith broke the news that Carousel's Nicholas Hytner will direct the film, and Miramax confirms that Larry Gelbart (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and City of Angels) is working on the screenplay.

Previously, columnist Liz Smith reported (Jan. 23) that Rosie O'Donnell, once rumored for the role of "Mama," wants to stay home with her children and declined the part.