Louise Plowright, star of Mamma Mia!, Wicked, Les Misérables and EastEnders, has died at the age of 59 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer…
Louise Plowright was forced to leave Wicked in 2013 shortly after the diagnosis of her condition. She underwent major surgery but two years later the cancer returned and could only be treated with an advanced genetic vaccine that was not available in the UK. The treatment was able to be undertaken by Dr Woo-Chul Moon of the Seoul National University Cancer Hospital in Korea. However, the cost was to be a prohibitive £140,000. Louise’s older sister, the opera singer Rosalind Plowright, set about raising the necessary money through Just Give Crowdfunding. In fact £150,000 was raised this way, and a further £90,000 through direct donations and London’s West End Theatres. It was enough to see Louise through her first year’s treatment. Sadly the disease struck again and Louise died on 1 March 2016.
Born on 1 June 1956, Louise was exposed to music throughout her life, as her father was a part-time jazz musician who instilled a love of music in his children’s lives. While Rosalind went down the operatic route, Louise eventually decided to become as an actress at the age of 28, having given up her job with a shoe retailer. She trained at the Bristol Old Vic School and got her first job in Educating Rita at the Bristol Theatre Royal. Later on, music called and she appeared in Hot Shoe Shuffle, Bad Girls: The Musical, and the Stephen Sondheim show Follies, in which she played Phyllis. At Chichester Festival Theatre Louise played Aunt Eller in Oklahoma! and her other musical appearances included 42nd Street, White Christmas, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and a tour of Les Misérables, playing Mme Thenardier.
Louise also appeared on television, most notably as Julie Cooper in EastEnders for nine months from 1989 until musical theatre called her back. In the same year she appeared in Menahem Golan’s film version of The Threepenny Opera called Mack the Knife with Raul Julia as MacHeath, Richard Harris as Peachum, Julia Migenes as Jenny, and a cast that also included Roger Daltry, Julie Walters and Bill Nighy. Other television appearances were in Three Seven Eleven, Families, Grange Hill and Footballers’ Wives: Extra Time.
Perhaps Louise will be most remembered for the five years from 1999 that she spent in Mamma Mia!, firstly creating the role of Tanya, for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award, and then later taking over in the leading role of Donna. By 2004 she felt that she had had enough ABBA and decided to move on to other work. Eventually she secured a part in Wicked in 2012 as Mme Morrible but had to leave the following year after the diagnosis of her pancreatic cancer.
Louise Plowright was a funny, talented, vivacious lady who brought joy to many, and it must be said that British musical theatre is now much the poorer for her passing. She leaves her husband Istvan Nemeth, an Olympic Pentathlon coach.