Ruthie Henshall is currently out on her most extensive regional tour of the UK for many years, giving the chance for local audiences to see one of the West End’s most popular home-grown stars. Henshall is presenting an ‘intimate evening’ this time round, which was premiered at the new cabaret spot at London’s Hippodrome, and is playing at venues a lot smaller than the large houses she is usually seen in. She’s joined by her musical director Paul Schofield on piano, with Lewis Andrews on guitar/bass and Stephen MacLachlan on drums (producing a rich sound here), for a varied few hours of song, chat, laughter and reminiscence.

Throwing off the mantle of the characters she is usually known for, Henshall comes across here as a personable and quite enchanting performer. The tone of the evening varies from pure showbusiness panache to some genuinely comedic moments, as well as some more tender and quite moving elements. The stage is back-lit with showbizzy lighting and plenty of atmospheric smoke, providing some great theatrical moments throughout. Henshall is obviously a musical theatre performer who absolutely loves what she does and has found her niche in life – she recalls how she felt exactly like the Billy Elliot song ‘Electricity’ (which she sings) when she discovered dance at the age of 10, and how lucky she feels to be doing what she does. Henshall’s song programme inevitably draws from this world, including numbers from Chicago, a show in which she played both Roxie and Velma in the West End and on Broadway, cannily also including a song from Kander and Ebb’s sassy score not usually associated with her. An empowered version of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ closes the first half, with Henshall recalling the 10th Anniversary concert in which she played Fantine, and the million You Tube hits her version received on the back of Susan Boyle’s success. Crazy for You also provides much material – it was Henshall’s breakthrough role and obviously still has a special place in her heart – and the Gershwin songs are a reminder of how some classic numbers never date. The powerhouse performer comes through in ‘Don’t rain on my parade’, the witty comedienne in ‘Adelaide’s Lament’ and a certain soulful reflectiveness in Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ too, in an intimate arrangement with guitar accompaniment.

Elsewhere the music is more edgy, with less ‘character’ playing – she opens with a sassy and jazzy version of the Beatles classic ‘It’s been a hard day’s night’, and later sings a moving version of Billy Joel’s ‘Vincent’ in memory of her late sister. The upbeat title track to her latest album ‘I’ve Loved These Days’ kind of sums the lady up nicely. Examining an alternative career choice in ‘Woking’, Henshall proves to be a comic delight – of course she’s always been an actress who communicates best through song, whether conveying an emotion or a story or playful humour. Her voice seems to have matured and become richer now, perhaps less shrill than the early days, like a fine wine ripening nicely after the heady early-career highs. Now in her mid-forties, but looking years younger, Henshall still possesses a wide vocal range after 25 years in showbiz and in this show seems to have the confidence to use her full vocal palate in a more varied and exciting style. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s no mention of the inevitably less successful shows (I still think that Peggy Sue Got Married was the one that got away), but Henshall is more honest than most about her home life, family, relationships and ambitious younger years. Still too young to play many of the older female roles in musical theatre, Ruthie Henshall’s intimate evening is a welcome reminder of how far her career has come, with exciting glimpses of how it might develop in the future.