Eponine has never been my favorite character in Les Miserables. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that nearly every girl in my middle school chorus sang her most notable song, “On My Own” at every turn. I’d usually fast forward the cassette (yes…cassette) to the next track to avoid listening to her sad, whiny tale of unrequited love towards Marius.
Little did this 12-year-old theater queen realize he was skipping past the Frances Ruffelle. The same fireball who originated the role in London and who would go on to win the Tony award in the original Broadway production.
On a recent Saturday night at The Green Room 42 my ears were re-introduced to the ballad, sung by the originator herself.
Age has taught me wisdom.
The Broadway star and recording artist is currently enjoying a monthly stint at the popular midtown cabaret club. Unless Elaine Stritch comes back as an angel and sings, “The Ladies Who Lunch”, it’s probably the best live performance you’re likely to see for quite some time.
Frances Ruffelle Live(s) in New York was conceived and written by Rufelle and her collaborator Gwyneth Herbert. It charts the loves and losses of a sometimes cynical, but mostly hopeless romantic and her quest to find quality lovers.
The London born singer is often mistaken for being of French descent, but she has used that to her advantage by stuffing her show full of “chansons francais” and tributes to Paris. Having played Edith Piaf on stage before, she indulged audiences with Piaf’s famous songs including “La Foule,” “Hymne L’Amour” and “Je Ne Regrette Rien”, all of which can be heard on her latest album “I Say Yeh-Yeh.”
The chanteuse displayed her Broadway side as well. From Michael John LaChiusa‘s The Wild Party, she delivered “This is What it Is” and later joined fellow songstress Catherine Porter on “Best Friend,” also from that show.
Rufelle connected with her edgier self, covering Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht‘s “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” and tipped her hat to singer-songwriters Jeff Buckley and John Prine with respectively, “Lilac Wine” and “All the Way With You.” Near the end, she tapped into her British roots with the kitschy but fun “I Say Yeh-Yeh”, a 60s hit for Georgie Fame. Broadway star Craig Bierko joined her for the catchy ditty.
Knowing that her packed house expected “On My Own”, she didn’t disappoint. In fact, she sang it not only once, but twice! The first time? On top of the piano (masterfully played by Jude Obermuller, her musical director, and co-arranger). The second time, she paraded through the room and engaged an audience sing along. Both times, the arrangement was less dirge-like and more upbeat and peppy, akin to a 50s doo-wop number. Solitude never seemed more enjoyable.
Ruffelle is that rare type of performer who can sing the hell of out any song, leaving you in heartbreak one moment and sheer excitement the next. If Bernadette Peters and Blondie had a love child, Ruffelle would be the product . She is equally comfortable with all genres and every note she sings exudes heart and life experience. Her fellow musicians, Obermuller, Tim Basom (guitar), Dustin Kaufman (drums), Sam Zerna (Bass), and Steven Wenslawski (accordion) only heighten her sultry and passionate delivery.
Frances Ruffelle Live(S) in New York on April 30th and May 20th.The Green Room 42 in the Yotel Hotel (570 10th Avenue at 42nd Street). For tickets and information, visit The Green Room 42.