Cameron Mackintosh’s legendary production of Boublil and Schonberg’s Les Misérables is the world’s longest running musical global stage sensation and played in the heart of the West End from October 1985 to July 2019. The show was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won eight, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. From laughter and romance to goosebumps and tears, this epic production strikes every possible chord and has been seen by over 120 million people worldwide in 52 countries and in 22 languages.
The best news is, they’re not stopping there! On 18 December an acclaimed new production hailed as “Les Mis for the 21st Century” opened at the newly refurbished Sondheim Theatre (formally the Queen’s Theatre). With incredible new staging and a magnificent score, we are certain this timeless tale will continue to take the world by storm.
To celebrate the opening of the new production, we are taking a look back at the cast members who have played the powerful leading role of Éponine over the years to see where they are now.
It’s only fair that we start with Frances Ruffelle, the first ever actress to be cast in the role of Éponine Thénardier. The English music theatre actress joined the original London cast from 1985, and though largely unknown outside of the West End, was invited to reprise the role for the Broadway launch. After its huge success, she went onto win the 1987 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Since then, she’s returned to the West End for the role she originated and has appeared in several other stage roles including Yonah in the West End production of Children of Eden, playing alongside Ian Dury in Apples at The Royal Court Theatre, Queenie in The Wild Party and Roxie Hart in Chicago at London’s Adelphi Theatre.
In addition to her stage career, the Les Mis fan-favourite also has a number of film credits to her name, including a cameo appearance in Tom Hooper’s Oscar-winning big-screen version of Les Misérables (2012) where she was one of only two original West End cast members invited to take part. And her talent doesn’t stop there! Alongside playing Dorien Green’s vicar daughter in ITV comedy Birds Of A Feather, her multi-faceted career also includes a performance on the Grammy Award winning Les Misérables cast album(s), five solo albums, and a series of 5-star sellout UK and US live performances! Having most recently hosted her first L.A performance of Frances Ruffelle LIVE(s) in New York, the multi-talented star is showing no signs of stopping.
After being cast as Éponine in Les Misérables at the Palace Theatre from 2001 – 2002, Welsh actress and singer Caroline Sheen went on to play numerous leading West End roles, including Sandy in Grease at the Victoria Palace Theatre, Susan Walker in Once In A Lifetime and Disney’s Mary Poppins in the UK tour. She reprised this role on the National Tour of America where she performed alongside her cousin Michael Sheen and for which she won the Helen Hayes award for Outstanding Leading Actress! A decade after starring as Éponine, the West End star returned to the London production, but in a very different role as Fantine. After leaving to have a baby, she went on to land her first major movie role in the smash-hit musical Les Misérables where she played a factory worker alongside her husband Michael, who played the factory foreman.
Besides her stage presence, Caroline has also appeared on screen including the movies Four Kids And It and Nativity Rocks, as well as TV roles in the BBC’s Hotel Babylon, Doctors and Torchwood. She is most recently known for playing the leading role of Violet Newstead in the West End premiere of 9 to 5 The Musical at the Savoy Theatre where she is currently starring until 11 January 2020 alongside David Hasselhoff (until 8 February 2020). She originally covered for Louise Redknapp after an injury forced her to temporarily withdraw from Dolly Parton’s musical earlier in the run. After Redknapp was forced to withdraw from the show following a wrist injury, Caroline assumed the role, and has received great praise to date. Having covered so much, who knows what role this Welsh beauty will step into next?
English actress and mezzo-soprano Alexia Khadime took the iconic role of Éponine in June 2011. Though she played the role for just short of a year, she went on to join the original West End company of The Book Of Mormon, playing the role of sweet Nabulungi. In 2014 she won the fan-voted WhatsOnStage Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for this role, as well as the West End Wilma award for Best Supporting Cast Member. Following The Book Of Mormon, she continued to shine as Princess Tahlia in Sleeping Beauty at Hackney Empire and Rita Marley in One Love: Bob Marley The Musical at Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
In addition to playing four of the biggest female leads in musical theatre (Nala in The Lion King, Elphaba in Wicked, Éponine in Les Misérables and, most recently, Nabulungi in The Book Of Mormon), Alexia is the only black woman to play the role of Elphaba full-time in any production of Wicked around the world!
We can’t wait for 2020 to roll around so we can see her smash it in the role of Miriam in the all-new musical, The Prince Of Egypt, playing at the Dominion Theatre from 5 February – 12 September 2020.
In addition to playing the role of Éponine in the West End production from 2010 – 2011, actress and singer, Samantha Barks was chosen to play the same role in the 25th Anniversary concert of Les Mis at the 02 Arena by Cameron Mackintosh. Furthermore, the stage star beat Taylor Swift in the race when she was offered a debut role in the Hollywood film adaption, alongside Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe. Mackintosh himself surprised Barks on stage during a curtain call with an offer she couldn’t refuse! Her widely acclaimed performance received several nominations and won her the Empire Award for Best Female Newcomer and shared the National Board of Review Award for Best Cast. Her rendition of On My Own from Les Misérables reached number 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 43 in the UK, being her first entry on each chart.
Alongside her stage career, Barks also has assumed a music career, including releasing a single debut, performing On My Own at the Classical Brits at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011 and taking part in the television special Andrew Lloyd Webber: 40 Musicals Years for ITV. Other leading stage roles include Velma Kelly in the 2013 production of Chicago at the Hollywood Bowl and Vivian in the stage musical, Pretty Woman, marking her Broadway debut. More recently, it was announced that she will be playing the role of Elsa in the West End production of Frozen which will be transferring to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in October 2020. We can’t wait to see her melt hearts!
Carrie Hope Fletcher
When Carrie Hope Fletcher made her stage debut as Young Éponine in 2001, she was just 9 years old. Since then, she has played numerous West End roles including Jemima Potts in the original casting of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium and Jane Banks in Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward Theatre. She later returned to the West End production to play Éponine from 2013 – 2016 when she received the WhatsOnStage Award for Best Take Over in Role, and featured in the 30th Anniversary Gala.
Fletcher is also an award-winning author having written with four novels and one biography to date. Her first book, All I Know Now: Wonderings And Reflections On Growing Up Gracefully is based on her blog of the same name and was a number one Sunday Times bestseller. All the while, she continued to sparkle on the stage too including the role of Emily in A Christmas Carol, Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family and Veronica Sawyer in the rocking smash-hit show, Heathers: The Musical, for which she was awarded the West End Wilma Award for Best Performer In An Off-West End Show 2018 and the WhatsOnStage Award for Best Actress in a Musical 2019. More recently, it was announced that Carrie will be returning to the stage from 18 December in the all-star brand-new production of Les Misérables at the Sondheim Theatre, but this time headlining in the role of Fantine, ready to sweep audiences away once again!