August 16, 2013
MATILDA's Lesli Margherita on her new show
Lesli Margherita currently stars as the hilarious Mrs. Wormwood in Broadway’s hit Matilda, but that’s not the only place you can catch her this month. Her Vegas-style nightclub act, All Hail the Queen, returns to New York City on August 25 at The Cutting Room. While preparing for her one-night-only event, she talked to Culturadar Blogger Shoshana Greenberg about putting together her act.
Culturadar: When did you write and put together this show?
Lesli Margherita: I started about four years ago when I got back from London [starring as Inez in Zorro]. I wanted to do a cabaret show, but I wanted to do something different that wasn’t just me and a piano. The first version was me with two back-up boys, and a full band. Over the past 4 years it’s gotten bigger and bigger and bigger to where now I have two back-up dancers, two back-up female singers, a five-piece band, and video projections. There was a puppet at one point. It was never a one-woman show. It’s really more of a night-club act.
CR: Were you looking to do something on your own?
LM: I had all these stories coming back from the West End. I really just wanted to be able to tell stories.
CR: What performers have most influenced you and this show?
LM: All these ladies that had Vegas acts in the 70s and 80s. I fell in love with the whole idea that it’s really a production. That’s not to say that I don’t love somebody just sitting on a chair and singing songs, I love that as well, but we wanted to do something that was more a throwback to Bette Midler in her earlier days at the bathhouse, and I always loved Liza with her boys. My parents would take me to see Vegas-type shows, and I thought it was super cool to see these women owning the stage with all the sparkles around them. I loved it.
CR: Do you play a character in the show?
LM: In the beginning, it was a different character. It was the Queen. She was kind of a tyrant. Things go wrong for her onstage. Then, over the years, it really just morphed into me. [The queen] is the brand name, so I call myself the Queen, but it’s more tongue-in-cheek. It started off as a definite character, but it’s all me now.
CR: Is there new material for this version?
LM: This is a brand new version of the show. We do [a version of the show] and then revamp the whole thing. New songs, new dances, new stories, which is exciting and frightening. These are all new stories that I haven’t told before.
CR: Is this the first show you’ve done since making your Broadway debut in Matilda?
LM: Yes, I knew that I really wanted to do this big Queen show in New York, and it’s taken a few months to get it together. Logistically, most of the people are from Los Angeles, so we’ve been figuring out when we can get that entire team of people here. That’s why we waited a few months, but it’s actually been great. We built up a fan base from Matilda, and I’m excited for all those people to get to see something totally different from what I do in Matilda.
CR: What’s different for you about performing your own show as opposed to a book musical?
LM: Performing a book musical is often easier. Someone else has written everything for you and given you the blueprint, and then I can take that and make it my own. But something like this, I write the whole thing. We all collaborate on what it’s going to be, but it’s frightening because it’s my words, my stories, my ideas. There’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t like what you do, and you just have to get on with it. It’s been a massive learning experience for me, and in the end I think it’s more rewarding to hear people’s reactions and know that they enjoy it.
CR: What did you learn from the experience?
LM: Collaboration. The bigger it got, the more people we had input from. I’d write something or pick a song that I love, but then my director or musical director would go, “You know, we don’t like that song.” I had to learn to take a step back and go, you know, I have to listen to other people. Most of the time they’re right. With any kind of artistic thing, you hold your cards close. There are things that are important to you, and if you’re doing a big show like this, you do have to listen to other people’s opinions. That’s what makes a great show.
CR: What is your favorite song in the show to perform?
LM: I love them all. Song selection takes forever. There are literally hundreds of songs over the years that I’ve found I really want to sing. They have to make sense in the show with a specific point in my life or specific story that I want to tell. I’m not just singing songs just because I think they’re pretty or because I’ve always wanted to sing them, so that is a little difficult. It’s hard [to choose a favorite]. I like them all to be surprises.
CR: What kinds of songs do you perform?
LM: There literally is every song in every genre. There’s pop, there’s country, there’s musical theater. There are things that we have redone, like a rock song that made it into a torch song.
CR: Is there a song you wanted to perform in the show but couldn’t?
LM: The list is so long. I could do in my living room a cabaret show of songs I wish I could do, and maybe someday I will and people can just come over and have wine. There are numbers from past shows that I really miss. I did a duet with a puppet version of myself and I love that puppet, and people love that puppet, but it made no sense to have the puppet in [this version]. It’s more things like that that are harder to not be able to fit in, things that I did in the past that I love.
LM: Even if you haven’t seen Matilda or even if you don’t know who I am, you will love this show. You don’t need to know me--you’ll know me after the show--but you don’t need to know me to enjoy it. It’s not specific to a theater crowd. It’s universal.
CR: Anything more you want audiences to know about the show?
Shoshana Greenberg writes musicals, plays, and prose. Her musicals include Lightning Man (Ars Nova ANT Fest), Sophia Venetia Voyager, and Soon Never, and her work has been featured in concerts at Lincoln Center, The York Theatre Company, the Duplex Cabaret Theater, the TriArts Sharon Playhouse, the Goodspeed Opera House, and The Laurie Beechman Theatre. She earned her MFA from NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program after graduating from Barnard College. She also blogs about theater for The Huffington Post.
Posted at 1:38 PM