View Comments Ruthie Henshall needs scant introduction as one of the West End’s leading musical theater lights, with credits spanning the Atlantic that include Chicago, Miss Saigon, Putting It Together and her current role as dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson in Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace Theatre. In recent weeks she has been coupling her work in the long-running hit with rehearsals for a two-performance-only gala staging of Follies on April 28 at the Royal Albert Hall, in which she plays Sally Durant Plummer opposite Christine Baranski as Phyllis Rogers Stone. Broadway.com caught up with the engaging, ever-busy star to talk juggling roles, Stephen Sondheim, and being a no-nonsense mum.You’re the latest in an illustrious line-up of women to play Mrs. Wilkinson. Was the offer a no-brainer for you?It was kind of a no-brainer! I don’t think of [roles] as creating versus taking over: what I do is look at the script and think, “Do I want to do this?” It doesn’t matter whether the show is 10 years or two minutes old. We’re performers and we want to work; we want to do what we love to do.Presumably you’d seen the show already?I did. I saw it on Broadway four or five years ago and took my daughters, who were 5 and 7 at the time. I hadn’t quite taken on board that there was lots of swearing, however much they cut it down for Broadway, and I remember sitting there and at the first swear word, my two girls looked over at me wide-eyed and said, “Oh my goodness, is that a naughty word?”What did you tell them?I said, “You know you’re not to repeat those,” and they both nodded and smiled and we went back to watching it; we absolutely loved it. It truly moves me, this show—it truly does.You’ve been in the musical during a significant year in its run.Absolutely: we had the special Billy Elliot Live performance which got made into a DVD so that was like being at opening night. We got to go back to work with [director] Stephen Daldry and [choreographer] Peter Darling and it also meant that our work was recorded for keeps whereas usually in the theater you do a performance and it’s gone. And people still stand at the end every night so the power of the piece is still there.What’s it like to have an ever-changing set of colleagues, given the numbers of kids who rotate through the cast?It makes it a very different show every night. We had one 14-year-old American boy who had left because his visa had run out and I was really upset saying goodbye to him because he had become a little friend, and we just recently said goodbye to another Michael and another Billy. That’s children for you: they get under your skin and in your heart.You’ve also added a two-performance-only concert staging of Follies to the mix.And Follies is quite a learn for only one day of work! But it’s such a wonderful piece and I love the whole concept of the paths you didn’t take, which that song [“The Road You Didn’t Take”] sums up for me: did you take the right path and what would have happened if you had taken a different one? Can you go back?What is it like reuniting with Alexander Hanson, who is playing Benjamin Stone to your Sally?We did [2008 West End musical] Marguerite together, and he’s so gorgeous and brilliant that I’m thrilled about that! He’s an easy one to be in love with, you know [laughs].You did the Sondheim revue Putting It Together on Broadway, with Carol Burnett and John Barrowman, so quite a few of these songs must have seemed like old friends.I’ve sung “Losing My Mind” and I did “Broadway Baby” once, and Carol and George Hearn sang several numbers from Follies in Putting It Together. So I’d heard the songs for years but it’s only when you actually put them in the context of the piece that they come alive and you get what they’re all about.Had you been angling to play Sally or did this come as a surprise?It came out of the blue. My agent said, “You’ve been offered this, is it something you want to do alongside Billy Elliot?” When I knew it was Follies and the Albert Hall, I said absolutely yes! I’m 48 now so I’m of an age where this is getting quite right [laughs].How do Sally’s vocal demands co-exist with those needed for Mrs. Wilkinson?There’s lots of belting and shouting in Billy Elliot so what I’ve now got to find is that lyrical side of my voice which can go to sleep when you’re not using it. It’s such a different part of the voice that I’ll be using that I’ve got to try and wake that up again.Have you previously met Christine Baranski, who is playing Phyllis?I haven’t but I love her. I really got into The Good Wife about two months ago and of course I’ve seen her in various musicals and on TV and film so I’m really excited about that. And, I mean, what a diverse cast: we’ve got people from Broadway [Betty Buckley], the West End [Peter Polycarpou], TV and film [Stefanie Powers], and daughters of legends [Lorna Luft]. I’m really excited about that.Does this make you want to do a proper run of the show?Now that I’ve read the script and have been singing the songs, I would love to do this part if and when they do another run of it. It’s such a beautiful piece.What’s happened to Tim [Howar, Henshall’s actor and musician ex-husband]?He’s on tour with his group Mike + the Mechanics so he’s being a rock star daddy and my girls just think the sun shines out of his bottom because he’s cool. I’m the one that disciplines them, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles [laughs].At the same time, I bet at least one of your daughters wants to be an actress!I fear so with Dolly, who’s the younger one and is exactly the same age  as I was when I got the bug. I suddenly at age 10 went, “I want to do this,” so I know what it’s like!