by Grace Treston
If there is one guarantee that this show gives, it’s this: you will rarely see so much smiling in one place during a performance – from staff members, viewers, and performers.
Theater’s iconic Frances Ruffelle has gifted us with a whip-smart evening of pure entertainment. Her decades of experience allow her to own the stage – and every corner of the venue, in fact.
At Frances Ruffelle Live(S) in New York, the British Tony Award winner exudes charm. The title of her show is accurate – she presents to us what living in New York is all about. The uniquely formatted show, with its mix of spoken word and powerful belting, is about the trials and tribulations of love, loss, and adventure. New York city in a nutshell, of course.
At the Green Room 42 in Manhattan’s glitzy midtown, Broadway’s original Éponine brings her monthly residency to life.
Years of being on stage in London’s West End and New York’s Broadway district have allowed Frances to cultivate her own special brand of entertainment. She has done her time in vigorous and stringent roles – roles that are physically and emotionally draining – and she has done it with splendour.
But now, at Green Room 42? She lets loose and strays from the rigidity of top-tier theater. Without losing an ounce of professionalism or quality, Ruffelle gives fans a night of hilarity and interactive enjoyment.
The set-list of the night is wisely crafted, with a fine mix of famous songs and original content created by the lady herself.
The evening was conceived by Ruffelle and Gwyneth Herbert, whom Frances fondly calls her musical arranger and friend. The duo’s finished work is excellently presented, and the entire team involved in creating this experience should be extremely proud.
The night’s live music is provided by Jude Obermueller (piano, musical director), Tim Basom (guitar), Dustin Kaufman (drums), Sam Zerna (bass), and Steven Wenslawski (accordion). Sometimes cropping up in the unlikeliest of places (you’ll see), the musicians gave a performance that was tight and energetic.
The work of Édith Piaf features heavily in Ruffelle’s show – as do French lyrics in general. It suits the evening, and it’s not surprising in the slightest given that Frances played the role of Édith in the 2013 run of Piaf in the UK.
Ruffelle’s wry humor adds a fabulous element to the evening – every chance there is for the audience to praise her, she whips it away in a giddy hurry. We’re left laughing as she dangles the moment for applause in front of us and then jumps straight into a jazzy number.
Truly the puppeteer of a willing audience, she commands the room with ease.
Whether she is bounding onto the body of a grand piano or teetering atop the seat of a high stool, Frances is entirely in control of her vocals at all times. Luckily for all of us, they are just as stunning in a live performance as they are in the Les Misérables cast recording that so many of us have wistfully replayed over and over for decades.
But she doesn’t do it all “on her own”.
By the way, everyone – it’s perfectly all right. Frances freely allows us to have our jokes and puns about the song that haunts her set-list like a beautiful ghost. In fact, she plays with the fame of “On My Own” throughout the show, showing us once again that she’s not taking herself too seriously; at least not in any way that would make her less lovable.
Joining her on stage – in the most creative ways possible – are Stuart Ward, Sally Ann Triplett and Craig Bierko. The warm rapport Frances has with each individual singer is superb to witness first-hand.
It’s clear that each song choice was carefully chosen, and long-term fans of Ruffelle will delight in hearing her audition song for the role of Éponine, “Hymne à L’amour” and “Like Yesterday,” which will be featured on her upcoming E.P.
Likability is something Frances has in bucket-loads, but anyone who has heard her sound doesn’t need to be told this twice. Such a unique voice doesn’t come around too often, and when it does, you’d better hope it’s encased in someone like Frances.
You will never forget the evening – especially because of the sore cheeks you’ll have. The smile that hits your face will take its time leaving.
Frances Ruffelle Live(S) in New York is back on March 24th, 2018 at the Green Room 42, located in the Yotel at 570 Tenth Avenue.