INTERVIEW: Frances Ruffelle to head cast in new production of iconic queer musical, Closer to Heaven

Brian Butler May 1, 2024

Broadway and West End star Frances Ruffelle will head the cast in a new production of the iconic queer musical Closer To Heaven, Scene can exclusively reveal.

The show, written by gay icons Jonathan Harvey and the Pet Shop Boys, will run at Battersea’s Turbine Theatre from 31 May – 30 June.

Frances, who won a Tony for her role as Éponine in the original 1987 production of Les Misérables, is also remembered for representing the UK at Eurovision in 1994 with Lonely Symphony (We Will Be Free).

Frances told me: “I haven’t seen Closer To Heaven, but I love the Pet Shop Boys and the simplicity of their lyrics, and their thoughtfulness, and I also love Jonathan Harvey.

“I said yes please, when the producer asked me to play the role. My life is all about fun – this is a challenge: Frances Barber made the part of Billie Trix iconic. There’s something about Billie in all of us – I feel her in my bones. Her song Friendly Fire is an absolute anthem.”

Closer to Heaven is set at the Millennium and opened in 2001. The Turbine will be transformed into Vic’s gay club, and seating allocated on arrival – pretty much like a club would.

The story is narrated by retired rock icon and actress, Billie Trix. The plot revolves round Vic, the gay club owner, and the complications that arise when Vic’s daughter meets barman Dave. No more spoilers!

Frances Ruffelle – Closer To Heaven. Photo credit – Mark Senior

Frances’ mother Sylvia had a seminal influence on her. “When I was young she did amateur dramatics and I saw her and got into the theatre that way.”  

At this point I should say that Sylvia was and is Sylvia Young, creator of one of the most successful theatre schools in the UK.

“I don’t know who influenced who – because I went into the professional theatre and my mother didn’t. She didn’t think to stop me, but she didn’t know how difficult it would be.”

But Frances under-sells herself for sure. She had a highly successful career in commercials and movies and her West End debut was opposite Omar Sharif in Terence Rattigan’s The Sleeping Prince.

But she leapt to fame as Dinah in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express – as she put it to me: “my dream came true, not as a cat but as a train.” And soon after she was chosen as the first Éponine in Les Misérables, going with the show to Broadway and winning a Tony. 

Frances Ruffelle as Éponine in Les Misérables

Many shows have followed, including Children of Eden, Piaf and Chicago. She told me with a large laugh that she still has nightmares about being asked to go on as Dinah with no preparation. 

Her philosophy on life and work now is: “you have to keep being busy. A job leads to a job.”

She describes Billie to me: “she’s got a performance on stage and off it. In Friendly Fire we see the real Billie – her vulnerability and inside energy – being stronger about being herself.”

And there’s more to come after Closer to Heaven. Frances is off to Edinburgh Fringe with her boyfriend to perform The Scot and the Showgirl, and in September she’s running a two-week workshop of a show she’s written with another gay icon, Alan Cumming, and actor Sally George.

She wouldn’t tell me much about it but its working title is I Can Die Too. Watch this space.

Tickets for Closer To Heaven HERE

Frances Ruffelle – Closer To Heaven. Photo credit Mark Senior