Shedding the Trench Coat and Going Beneath the Dress, Frances Ruffelle Debuts at 54 Below

By Carey Purcell
17 May 2013

Frances Ruffelle
Frances Ruffelle

Frances Ruffelle rose—or, rather, skyrocketed—to fame at 19 when she was cast as Eponine, the spunky street urchin in the musical Les Misérables by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil.

Ruffelle, who had already performed onstage in the West End productions of The Sleeping Prince and Starlight Express, created the role of the love-lorn and determined French waif who pines for her politically minded friend. Ruffelle transferred to New York with the show, opening on Broadway and winning the Helen Hayes Award, Theatre World Award, Outer Circle Critics Award and Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance, which included a moving rendition of Eponine's ballad of unrequited love, "On My Own."

Since Les Miserables, Ruffelle has continued performing, appearing in London productions of Children of Eden, Chicago, Pippin and, most recently, Piaf. She has also recorded four solo albums and made numerous television and film appearances, including the motion picture adaptation of Les Misérables, where she played one of the prostitutes who sang "Lovely Ladies."

Now Ruffelle can be seen in New York at 54 Below, giving a one-night performance of Beneath the Dress, a solo act about her life that celebrates "women who love to entertain." The show, Ruffelle's first in America in several years, sold out quickly.



"I'm quite surprised," Ruffelle said. "It's kind of crazy, isn't it? After all these years—26 years later—there's still an audience for me. It's a pleasant surprise."

Throughout those 26 years, both the character and song that Ruffelle originated have achieved iconic status, with "On My Own" becoming one of the most popular songs for both auditioning actors and lovelorn teens. Their longevity was a also surprise to Ruffelle.

"I don't think anyone expected that," she said. "Obviously, I took the role, and loved the music, but honestly, no one expected it to last this long. Even though I knew it was special, it's just outrageous how long it's lasted. It's really amazing to have had the opportunity to be the original Eponine."

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