West End legend Ruthie Henshall on what she makes of Gemma Collins taking on iconic role in Chicago

She’s one of the best known names in musical theater and excitement is mounting as West End and Broadway icon Ruthie Henshall heads to Manchester to take on a gripping role at the Hope Mill Theatre. The Olivier Award winner, who has appeared in some of the biggest shows of all time including Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Oliver, Crazy For You, Chicago and Billy Elliot, will lead a reimagining of Stephen Sondheim’s multi-award-winning Passion – a tale of love, sex and obsession.

The 55-year-old actress and singer will play Fosca, a woman prone to severe melancholy and mania, in one of her all-time favorite musicals which comes to the Manchester Factory of Creativity’ for a run of 37 performances from Thursday May 5 Based on Ettore Scola’s Italian film, Passion d’Amore, the production tells the tale of a young soldier, Giorgio, who is obsessively pursued by Fosca the relation of his superior officer.

Passion take a thought-provoking look at the lengths people go to for desire. And it will be revitalized with modern staging and production at the Ancoats-based Hope Mill Theatre, which opened in 2015 as the dream of married couple Joseph Houston and William Whelton, inspired by the Off-West End Theaters and small producing venues dominating the London theater scene.

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Speaking to us ahead of rehearsals starting tomorrow (Monday April 11) Ruthie said: “I think that’s when the fear will set in. But I’m very, very excited. It’s a beautiful piece and the Hope Mill Theater is the perfect venue. “

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Ruthie says there are a ‘handful of brilliant female roles’ for an older woman, and the complex and unrelenting Fosca is one of them. “He writes brilliant roles for older women,” said Ruthie about the late legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, whose prolific portfolio includes West Side Story, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Company and Follies.

“He just writes brilliant roles for older women,” she said. “Passion shows what love really is like. Love is not always pretty. In picture books love is perfect. But it can be ugly sometimes.”

Ruthie, who swapped the stage for the cold castle on I’m a Celebrity in 2020, made her West End debut in Cats in 1987. She played both Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly in Chicago on the West End and Broadway.

And in 2018 she became the only British actress to play all three female characters in the show when she played Matron ‘Mama’ Morton in the West End. Some critics recently voiced disapproval when former The Only Way Is Essex star Gemma Collins recently announced she had landed the role as Mama Morton in the UK touring production.

Ruthie Henshall at the The Olivier Awards 2022

Producer David Ian said they were “were completely stunned” by her audition. And at her recent one-woman show in Manchester Gemma, who attended the famous Sylvia Young Theater School as a teen, clapped back at talk that she had only got a part in the UK tour of Chicago: The Musical because of who she is.

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Asked for her thoughts on the ‘GC’ playing the part of the feisty prison warden, she said: “If she can sing then great. I didn’t know she could sing. Maybe she will surprise us all. We will all have to wait and see.”

Passion comes to the Hope Mill Theater from Thursday May 5 to Sunday June 5 on Tuesday to Saturday evenings at 7.30pm, a Wednesday and Saturday matinee at 2.30pm and a Sunday matinee at 3pm. Tickets are £39.50 and are available from the Hope Mill Theater Box Office at hopemilltheatre.co.uk


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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