Rita Simons comes to the Palace Theatre as Paulette Bonafonte in Legally Blonde The Musical
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 June 2018
© Robert Workman
Rita Simons is currently starring as trailer trash hairdresser Paulette Bonafonte in the touring production of Legally Blonde…and she’s rocking it, writes Kate Houghton.
Even if you’re not a fan of EastEnders, you’re likely to be aware of the feisty blonde Roxy Mitchell, serial fiancée, occasional bride and possibly the unluckiest woman in the East End, although many of her disasters were self-inflicted and, well, it is EastEnders.
On leaving the show last year, quite dramatically (obviously) and permanently (surprisingly), Rita’s next role was rather different, in every possible respect.
Rita was asked to do Legally Blonde after Martin Dodd, the head of UK Productions, saw her sing at a birthday party for Paul Hendy, who runs Evolution Productions, the people behind some of the UK’s biggest and best-loved pantomimes.
‘He heard me sing,’ Rita tells me, ‘and then someone whispered in his ear: “she’s leaving EastEnders you know.” He called the show’s director the next day and said “I think we found our Paulette.” Before I agreed to Legally, I had been offered three musicals and had said no to them all. My first response was ‘oh no, not another musical,’ but I just got a gut feeling that I’d love it. I’m so glad I agreed! Sometimes you just need to take a chance.’
This might be Rita’s first role in musical theatre, but she’s no stranger to singing on stage, having toured the UK in various pop bands and enjoyed great success in pantomime, where she discovered another talent.
‘I discovered I am quite good at comedy,’ she says. ‘I love doing comedy and I like to make everything I do outrageous. Being able to get the laughs on stage is priceless; I look at the actors playing Prince Charming or the Princess and feel quite sorry for them!’
I wonder how she copes with touring, after so long in a ‘steady job.’
‘It’s amazing how we all acclimatise,’ she says. ‘I’m going to see my husband and children for the first time in five weeks this weekend. We Skype and Facetime, of course, but it is hard. The company has become like my little family though. I think all companies do that; you surround yourself with people who support you.
‘But, I have to admit, after ten years of going to the same place every day, there’s something very exciting about getting off a train on a Sunday afternoon and Googling where I’m staying and where I’m going.’
Rita is now eight months in to a nine month tour, which finishes at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, this month. I wonder how she and the cast keep it fresh for the audiences night after night.
‘That’s down to the audience,’ she says. ‘The reactions from the audience make such a difference to how we deliver it. I can tell within minutes of curtain up how it’s going to go; if they are giggling at all the really little jokes right from the start, you know it’s going to be a great night.’
Rita has scoliosis, a double S, she tells me, and a double rotation, and an MRI recently revealed the start of a hairline fracture. How on earth does she manage such a demanding role, with the fabulous but very physical ‘Bend and Snap’ her character is so famous for?
‘Well, right now I’m waiting for a massage, my first in ages and I can’t wait!’ she says. ‘But also it’s about keeping your core and back muscles strong – and lots of physio. At home I have a gym built just for me to exercise and for my physio. I could have an operation, but I really don’t want to. I am weirdly fit and supple for someone with scoliosis, but it’s all down to staying fit and strong.’
It strikes me that there is very little that Rita can’t accomplish through fierce determination and talent combined; reviews of her performance as Paulette are universally glowing, suggesting that this is a show absolutely not to be missed.
Legally Blonde The Musical plays at Palace Theatre Manchester from 25 to 30 June
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