Originally groomed for a career in opera, actress Rosemary Ashe has been a regular in musical theatre - and, in particular musical comedies - for the past 20 years.

Her myriad musical credits include The Boyfriend, The Metropolitan Mikado, Candide, Bitter Sweet, Forbidden Broadway, Oliver!, Show Boat, Salad Days, Annie Get Your Gun, Into the Woods, The Gingerbread Man and Nunsense, as well as her long-running one-woman cabaret The Killer Soprano, which she has toured extensively.

Amongst the renowned roles that Ashe has originated are Viv Nicholson in Spend Spend Spend at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and, in the West End, Carlotta in The Phantom of the Opera and Felicia Gabriel in The Witches of Eastwick, for which she was nominated for an Olivier for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical.

That Cameron Mackintosh production teamed her up with her stage husband Stephen Tate, a nuptial which proved so successful that the pair has vowed to continue to seek work together as a duo. Their first post-Witches reunion is in the revamped cast of Mackintosh's blockbuster Les Miserables. Ashe - as Madame Thenardier, a part she has previously played - is wed once again to Tate, as Monsieur Thenardier, in the new cast which also includes Michael Sterling, Jerome Pradon and Paul Manuel.

Date of birth
Born 28 March 1953.

Trained at...
Royal Academy of Music and the London Opera Centre.

Now lives in...
Chiswick, west London.

First big break
Playing Cunegonde in Candide in 1981. Until then, I'd been a member of an opera company, but that was my first big break into making a solo career.

Career highlights to date
One of the jobs I've most enjoyed was doing Noises Off in Salisbury. It was such a challenge. We had only three weeks to rehearse and put it on. I loved every minute of it. Other highlights for me have included performing in New York, working with Jonathan Miller and singing with Leonard Bernstein at the Barbican. That was only in rehearsal and I was called at the last minute because their soprano was sick, but it was still such a pleasure to meet Bernstein. Being in the original cast of The Phantom of the Opera has to feature, too.

Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Forbidden Broadway because there are so many great songs, and it's so fast-moving and rewarding. I couldn't wait to get in every night. Also Side by Side by Sondheim. Variety is the key for me. That's why I love cabaret. I've been doing my own one-woman show, Killer Soprano, for years. I'd loved to be a Diva at the Donmar.

Favourite co-stars
Stephen Tate, who plays my husband Monsieur Thénardier in Les Miserables. We get on so well. We have the same sense of humour and this extraordinary rapport on stage - he always knows exactly what I'm thinking. He also played my husband in The Witches of Eastwick. We consider ourselves a duo now and want to do more shows together. My other favourites are Barry James and John Aron, who is no longer with us. John died nine years ago and is still sadly missed.

Favourite directors
Peter Rowe, Richard Digby Day, Antony Tuckey, Hal Prince. They're each brilliant in their own different ways, but all are very good at casting, they do their homework and are open to ideas.

Favourite playwrights
Some of Michael Frayn, some of Tom Stoppard. I also like the comic writing and the time plays of JB Priestley and I love the language in Shaw, which is beautiful to speak.

Favourite musical writers
The old ones really. I'm steeped in the music of the 1920s and 30s.

What roles would you most like to play still?
Mama Rose in Gypsy, Mame and, if Witches went to America, I'd happily do Felicia Gabriel again. I'd love to work in the US but I'm not starry enough to qualify for an Equity exchange. I've applied for a Green Card, which took ages, but I have heard yet.

Do you have any preference between musicals or plays?
I do like to do a play when I get the chance, I enjoy it. But I've made my name doing character parts in musical comedy. I have a good sense of humour and good timing. I like doing the secondary roles too. They're usually much more fun than the one-dimensional love interest.

What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
Privates on Parade at the Donmar was phenomenal and Nigel Planer's one-man show I, An Actor had me in hysterics. I also though My One and Only was good fun, I was sorry that came off.

What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
The most important thing for actors is to do with the tax situation. The government needs to be more understanding of actors when they're out of work. As it is, it can be very difficult to sign on. And when we're in work, there's this nonsense with the EU, which requires that we take off four weeks of annual holiday. In a big show like Les Mis, that means you never have the full cast on at any one time. They just don't understand what we do and how we work in this profession.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
Mary Ellis, who was the leading soprano in all of Ivor Novello's musicals. I think it's very sad that operetta is hardly ever done anymore. The 1930s was a great time.

Favourite book
Of Human Bondage by W Somerset-Maugham.

Favourite holiday destinations
I like New England and Eilat in Israel, though it's probably not wise to go there now. The Seychelles is fantastic, too. There's this most idyllic place there called Bird Island, where only 50 people a night are allowed to stay over.

Favourite joke
I don't like to give too many away because I use them in my act, but here's one you can have: "Did you know that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are getting together to write a new musical based on the life of Victoria Beckham? It's called Superstar? Jesus Christ!"

Favourite colour
Pink. I guess it has to do with my name, Rosie. Everything is pink with me - my clothes, my jewellery, the pens I write with. My cabaret show used to be called Think Pink before I changed the name to Killer Soprano.

Why did you want to return to the part of Madame Thernadier in Les Miserables?
I only did it for a few months before and it's been ten years since then. And I wanted to be with Stephen Tate again.

What are the challenges of performing in such a long-running production?
Keeping it fresh. You have to use all of your techniques as a performer to do that. You have to remember that, every night, there are a lot of people out there watching who haven't seen the show before. To them, it's all new and exciting. And it's such a good piece of theatre.

What do you think makes Les Mis such good theatre & so successful around the world?
It's a great story that people can identify with and are touched by. The whole range of human emotion is in there. I think it's also better now that it's shorter.

What are your plans for the future?
I'm contracted to Les Mis for a year and will also be doing Killer Soprano again. We'll see what happens with the Green Card.

- Rosemary Ashe was speaking to Terri Paddock