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

By Carey Purcell
17 May 2013

Michael Ball and Frances Ruffelle in the original London cast of Les Miz.
Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench

An ironic twist in the history of Les Misérables is that "On My Own" was not originally written for Ruffelle's character. Instead, it was first sung by Fantine in the French version, and it was rewritten for Ruffelle during rehearsal—again and again.

"In the original rehearsals in London, they were giving me new lyrics every day throughout the previews," Ruffelle said. "Luckily, I was very young. I was like a sponge, and I was able to learn them and perform them that night. That went on and on. Even when we got to New York, there were some changes."

Once the song was finalized, the show continued to run on Broadway, closing in 2003 and opening for a limited revival in 2006. Following the success of the film adaptation, another revival is scheduled to open on Broadway in March 2014.

Despite Les Misérables' longevity, Ruffelle does not perform "On My Own" very often, preferring to sing material she thinks fits with her present-day life. Those are the songs that make up Beneath the Dress, which she describes as "a culmination of experiences, told in song." She has performed Beneath the Dress at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as well as the Menier Chocolate Factory and Garrick Theatre.

"It's really kind of like the real Frances," she said. "Everyone just thinks of me as this little waif, but actually I'm a 47-year-old woman now and I've had a life. I've had ups and I've had downs. The show's about the girl I was and the woman I am now."

The songs included in Beneath the Dress were chosen from people Ruffelle said she admires and people in her own life who she adores. Some of the former include Bette Midler, Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli.

"They're all real big entertainers," she said. "I love people who entertain, not people that just stand there. I want to be entertained, and I want to have a laugh."

In order to provide the best entertainment she can, before her own performances, Ruffelle follows a routine of long, slow vocal warm-ups, a strict diet of no coffee, tea or dairy, and as little talking as possible.

"If I'm doing eight shows a week, I just don't speak to anybody," she said. "I'm really unsociable and quite lonely when I work, actually. But that's how I like it."

Even if Ruffelle is on her own before her performance, when she takes the stage for the sold-out show at 54 Below, she won't be alone for long.

Frances Ruffelle performs Beneath the Dress at 54 Below May 22 at 9:30 PM. More information can be found at