Suffolk stage star Ruthie Henshall creates West End record as she returns to musical Chicago
PUBLISHED: 08:46 16 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:46 16 February 2018
Mega-musical Chicago is heading back to the West End and Suffolk stage star Ruthie Henshall is heading back into the spotlight with it and in the process becoming the first actress to play three leading roles in the same London show.
When the show opened in 1997 Ruthie won an Olivier nomination for her role as Roxie, then she rejoined the musical in 2003 and took over the role of Velma Kelly and now for the 21st anniversary revival she is playing corruptible prison warder Mama Morton, who has two stand-out songs When You’re Good To Mama and Class.
This latter number was dropped from the six-Oscar-winning movie because it was considered too rude for family audiences. The innuendo laden lyrics means that the actor playing the role can have a lot of fun with the song.
She said: “I suggested Mama Morton because I had done Velma and Roxie and by doing Mama I felt that I was completing the circle.
“Bebe Neuwirth, who is best known over here for appearing in Cheers and Frasier, did the hat-trick on Broadway and I’m going to do it in the West End.
“It feels a special thing to do for the 21st anniversary. Once you are part of the Chicago family, you feel part of something bigger than you, and it’s great to be part of a show that’s so well loved.”
This latest revival of the show which has Cuba Gooding Jnr as Billy Flynn and is set to open at the Phoenix Theatre in March. The initial run is expected to last for three months.
Set in the Prohibition-era, Chicago was written by musical partnership John Kander and Fred Ebb and is a satire on corruption in the criminal justice system and the concept of the celebrity criminal.
The original production was choreographed by Bob Fosse and his signature-style is strongly identified with the show.
What attracted Ruthie to Mama Morton was that it was a real actors role.
“Mama knows what’s what and you can really have fun with the part,” she said.
“She is The Keeper of the Keys. She can make things happen if you grease her palm.
“She is as manipulative as any of the inmates.
“She appears to be helping the girls but the reality is she’s helping herself. It’s a part you can really get your teeth into.
“When she’s on stage she’s really front and centre.
“I can’t wait for rehearsals to begin.
“It’ll be great to be back and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
In addition to her West End triple crown, Ruthie remains the only one to have played both Roxie and Velma in the West End and on Broadway.
She also won Best Actress in a Musical during her time with She Loves Me which took five Olivier awards in 1994.
She was also nominated for Polly Brown in Crazy For You.
This current production of Chicago had its debut on Broadway in 1996, and arrived in the West End a year later.
The West End revival ran for nearly 15 years has become the longest-running American musical in West End history.