November 22, 2015
A Broadway Broad: Lesli Margherita’s New Show BROAD at Birdland
Broadway’s Lesli Margherita recently made a switch. After more than two years as Mrs. Wormwood in Matilda, she’s now playing Mona in the first Broadway production of Dames at Sea. And she’s also switching up her cabaret life: her new show Broad plays Birdland Monday, November 30th and December 7th. The show features the songs of women such as Mae West and Sophie Tucker and explores what it means to be one of these ballsy, bawdy broads. Culturadar blogger Shoshana Greenberg talked to Margherita about creating a new show, the legacy of vaudeville, and how working on Broad affected her character in Dames at Sea.
Lesli Margherita: Last spring I was thinking about putting together another Queen show and as I was looking at music I started finding these older songs from these women. I then started looking at all their lives and I was fascinated. I thought, why is no one doing this? All Hail the Queen is something I’ll always do. It’s about me and my personal stories. Broad is not about personal stories but about how I became the type of performer that I am. All these performers were broads and really paved the way for everyone now, like Madonna and Beyoncé.
CR: How did you start writing this show and putting it together?
LM: It came easily. Some songs I already had for a long time. I keep a list of songs I’d like to do at some point, and some songs were on there. I just kept amassing songs. Last spring I started putting it all together, and I just haven’t had time to do it until now. I was going to do it earlier, and then Dames at Sea happened.
CR: Which women are you featuring and why did you choose them?
LM: I’m mentioning tons of broads in many ways--Dolly Parton, Cher. I didn’t choose specific women, it’s more generally about this type of woman. The songs describe certain qualities that these women have. It’s not a history lesson, it’s about how to be a broad and what it is to be a broad. All of the songs that I’m singing are older songs from the 1920s to 1950s, maybe one from the 1960s. There’s no current pop music, but we mention some of the broads that are popular today. I do Rosemary Clooney. I’m not doing any Bette Midler material, but her presence is present.
CR: How would you describe the style of song in this show and how does it differ from the material in All Hail the Queen?
LM: What attracted me to these songs were the lyrics, these double entendres. These women got away with singing some really racy songs in the 20s and 30s. A lot of these songs were banned at one point for ridiculous reasons, and I talk about that in the show. I’ve always loved this style of music and performing. It’s all about storytelling versus vocal gymnastics, and at the end of the day, it’s about empowerment and owning who you are, like in the Queen show.
CR: Are these new arrangements?
LM: Brett Ryback, my musical arranger and musical director, and I left a lot of them alone. We’ve done our own orchestrations but we didn’t want to mess with the songs. I looked at so many versions, and the originals were the strongest. There was no need to add bells and whistles. The majority of these women wrote these songs, so I wanted to stay true to what they wanted.
CR: This fall you left Matilda and opened the musical Dames at Sea, a show with songs in this style. Did that change affect Broad?
LM: It’s helpful. I’m living in this world both at night and during the day. If anything, it’s helped me see a side of Mona, my character in Dames at Sea, that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. There’s some gushiness underneath. It’s fun to be in this era nonstop. Broad was in the works long before I was doing Dames, and it was just the most amazing coincidence.
CR: These women were prominent in Vaudeville.
LM: It was the first time a woman could write a song and say, “Here it is. I’m going to do it on the road.” There was no other outlet, especially for those women in the 1920s. Once radio plays and TV came up there was more of an outlet.
CR: Do you see any equivalent to Vaudeville today?
LM: When I started researching these women, I found these Vaudeville shows to be so bizarre. I do think that that kind of show exists today, but we don’t call it vaudeville. Vaudeville really was everything and the kitchen sink. There was no through line. In hindsight, All Hail the Queen with a puppet is a similar kind of act. Those talent shows on TV like America’s Got Talent are the closest thing. And there’s YouTube. The performances are still there, it’s just not all in one place now.
CR: Why do you think these women, like Sophie Tucker and Mae West, and their material are no longer as popular?
LM: It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do this show. I knew l I would have people coming who didn’t know any of these women. I wanted to say, “Look at these songs, look at these singers,” and you’d leave wanting to know more. I think it’s like anything—you see what’s right in front of you. These singers are not on the radio, they’re not easily accessible. They are the precursors. Sophie Tucker was Bette Midler before Bette Midler. There’s always someone before. I was interested in who that origin was. I’m sure it goes even further back.
CR: Is there anything more that you want audiences to know about the show?
LM: I hope they come in with no expectations. I hope they go along for the ride and live in the world of this type of woman.
Posted at 3:06 PM