IT'S straight from soap to the stage for Rita Simons.

After a decade of playing Roxy Mitchell in EastEnders, she is set to make her musical debut as Paulette Bonafonté, the spunky beautician in Legally Blonde: The Musical.

"It's brilliant," she muses on a break from rehearsals. "I've just been sitting here in awe of all the talent I'm surrounded by."

Rita, who will be starring alongside Eurovision Song contestant Lucie Jones and Bill Ward, of Emmerdale and Coronation Street fame, is no stranger to the show.

"I went to see it at The Savoy when one of my best friends Duncan James was playing Warner. I loved it.

"Of course, I also have two 11-year-old children, so it's a film we've also seen quite often and we really love. Jennifer Coolidge is brilliant in it."

Coolidge, best known as 'Stifler's Ma in the American Pie series, became a cult favourite after her facial expressions stole the show as Paulette.

"It's definitely my own take on Paulette and I'd say she has a bigger part and is livelier on stage, but I will be brining a touch of Jennifer Coolidge to it.

"She's very contrary. She's been through a lot and treated terribly, so you do feel for her, but she's so funny and so spunky, she does eventually find her confidence. It's such a good role."

Even the American accent doesn't trouble her.

"Luckily I've been a mimic all my life really, I love taking people off so I've just taken that approach to it."

She's looking forward to a new challenge after her dramatic exit from Albert Square. Roxy and her sister Ronnie, played by musical theatre star Samantha Womack, died in a double wedding day drowning on New Year' Day.

And there's no looking back.

‘There’s a strange sense of relief. The finality of it all makes it much easier to move on. A lot of characters who either died off-screen or didn’t die at all spend the rest of their lives wondering if they’ll go back.

Rita will be on tour until July. She's thrilled to be a part of Legally Blonde, but not looking forward to being separated from her twin daughters for the whole of their first year at secondary school.

"My two 11-year-old girls have just started at two different secondary schools so I spent a lot of time making sure everything was in place so my husband has everything he needs . He runs a very busy salon, but he's brilliant."

The actress, who has a famous uncle in the shape of Alan Sugar, will have one member of the family with her on tour.

When asked about the dog Paulette always had by her side, she said: "I don't care what they get up to, I love dogs so much. I'm a massive dog lover and I had two up until a few weeks ago when we had to say bye bye to my King Charles spaniel at the age of 14. My cockapoo will be coming on tour with me, which is not that feasible but I'll have my little best friend with me."

Look out for him waiting in the wings at Mayflower Theatre when Legally Blonde takes to the stage from Tuesday to Saturday.

Tickets: 023 8071 1811 or