BWW Interview: DAMES AT SEA's Lesli Margherita Is Shuffling Back Into the Broadway Spotlight!
Lesli Margherita is back on Broadway- and she never even left! The star of Broadway's MATILDA is making a seamless transition into another wacky (but this time lovable) role in DAMES AT SEA, which opens on Thursday, October 22 at the Helen Hayes Theatre (240 West 44 Street).
DAMES AT SEA is a tap-happy gem of a show that celebrates the golden era of movie musicals with dazzling dances, spectacular songs and delightful dames! Ruby steps off a bus in Manhattan, and into her first Broadway show, but hours before the opening night curtain is to rise, the cast learns their theater is being demolished, so it is "all hands on deck" to find a stage to put on the show. Featuring rollicking tap dancing, love at first sight, joyful music and a boatload of laughs, Dames at Sea has everything you need to sweep your glooms away.
Just a week away from her big opening night, Margherita checked in with BroadwayWorld to tell us all about her new role, the show's incredible tap numbers, and so much more. Check out the full interview below!
So you've been in previews for a couple of weeks now... how are things going so far?
Yes! Things are going great! We've only had very tiny changes... nothing major. It's literally just a costume change or a few tap steps. It's very, very minor changes, so it's been very smooth! We're ready to open.
Wow, that sounds like a dream!
I know, we've been ready to go since preview one! It's getting better and better every night. The audiences have been going insane, which is amazing.
Yes! I've heard that audiences have been going wild.
It's been like a rock concert every night. I turned to some of the cast after our first preview and I went, "I don't think I'll ever have that reaction on the stage again." Obviously matinees are a little bit quieter because the crowd is a little older, but especially with the nighttime shows, it is a rock concert. When the curtain closes we look at each other going, "We all just experienced that, right?" It's so crazy. And none of us expected it. We obviously thought that people would love it, but people are REALLY loving it. I've never gotten a response like this.
I've heard that the tap dancing is some of the best Broadway has ever seen!
I mean, Randy Skinner is an icon. What he has done in one show shows pretty much every style of tap that you can do. Like, I'm a hoofer. Mara Davi and Danny Gardner are doing more of a soft-shoe, Fred and Ginger kinda style. Then you have Eloise Kropp, who I personally think is the best tap dancer I've ever seen on a stage. Ever. I think when people see her they are going to appreciate seeing stuff that is so intricate and so clean. She has got to be the best tap dancer I've ever seen on a stage. She's phenomenal.
You're working with a really small cast for a musical... what's that been like so far?
We just have this attitude of: we are a little band of performers and we're gonna do it! It feels very much like it's our little gang against the world. We're all exhausted in the best way at the end of the show because we all get time to shine, but we get very few breaks. There is only six of us, so we really are doing everything. But it's really satisfying and so much fun. When you see it, you will probably see one of us start to laugh, because we are laughing so hard at each other. At some point Randy was telling us, "Keep it in, but if you can't, I get it." We really are trying to be professional, but I can't look at those five people and not laugh!
Have you had a lot of bonding time together off of the stage?
We had press events before we even started rehearsal, so we kinda got to hang out before we started. That was really cool. Now at the end of the week we'll maybe grab a quick drink, but it's been so quick. We only rehearsed three weeks and then had a week of tech. For me, two and a half of those weeks I was doing double duty at MATILDA, so I was a little frazzled. Three weeks is tough, and a week of tech is nothing, so it's been fast and furious. So we haven't had a ton of time to hang out, but it feels like we do... because it's so small we're always together anyway! [Laughs]
I heard that you've done this show before but you played a different character? Are you enjoying your time as Mona?
In college I played Ruby, Eloise's role, at UCLA. So I knew the show. It's so funny because I talked to my college professor right after I was cast, and he goes, "I always knew you were a Mona!" I loved playing Ruby when I was younger, because it's a more innocent, wide-eyed, Peggy Sawyer-ish role, but obviously now as my life has gone on it's much more fun to play the self-absorbed diva. [Laughs] It's the most fun I've ever had.
You know, Mrs. Wormwood was very self-absorbed, but she was really mean. Mona's not mean; she's just stupid. And of course you find out that she does have a heart. Mrs. Wormwood never showed her heart. So this is really fun for me to play. You know that the audience is with you and not against you. They're rooting for Mona! Randy is of course keeping a lid on things but he's letting me climb on top of a piano and run around like a crazy person.
You've really made a name for yourself as this brilliant comedic actress. Is comedy something you just fell into?
Part of me loves the dramatic stuff too. My role in ZORRO in London had a big, dramatic death. It had comedic elements, but it was more of a dramatic role. I love both, but I think the comedic roles are more difficult, honestly. For me, I'll obsess over timing. Some of it comes naturally, but you also have to be really respectful of the timing of scenes and timing with your partner. It's a little bit more difficult for me than the dramatic stuff.
I was lucky enough to come out here and debut in a funny role. I think it's easier for people to see me that way because of MATILDA. It's more fun- no matter how you slice it, it's more fun to be funny.
This show spoofs old movie musicals, so I have to ask: are there any that were favorites of yours growing up?
My mom was a huge movie musicals fan, so I grew up watching Ann Miller and all of those movies. I loved 'Easter Parade'. There is a number in it that I memorized when I was little. I loved her. I watched all of them, 'The Bandwagon'.... and of course once I got into my teens I found Barbra and Judy and got into the later movie musicals like 'Funny Girl' and 'A Star is Born' and 'Yentl'. I grew up watching all of that stuff. No matter how bad it is I'll watch it on TV.
We're a little over a week away from opening night- what are you most focused on in getting yourself to that point?
I think for me, like I have a little bit of a cold right now! So it's about staying healthy. That tends to happen when you're busy and crazy and have no time. You wake up and your voice is scratchy because you have a cold. So yeah, it's staying healthy and continuing to refine things. Every audience has been different and every night there has been something where I come home and go, "Ok, I need to work on that." And all six of us are like that- we're all perfectionists. We really want it to be as tight as possible. There's a lot of farce elements to this too, so we wanna get that right.
Opening night is always a blast because there's no more critics; it's just your friends and family. It's really the lead up to it that you start to get press coming. I don't like to know when they're there. [Laughs] I just wanna do the best show that I can!
Lesli won the 2009 Laurence Olivier Award for her performance as Inez in Zorro The Musical on London's West End. Lesli is currently starring on Broadway in Matilda as Mrs. Wormwood, a role she originated. Film work includes Opening Night opposite Topher Grace and Taye Diggs, and Lucky Stiff with Jason Alexander. Born and raised in California, Leslitrained at UCLA and her television credits include the upcoming "Donny!", "Fame LA", "Major Crimes", "The Suite Life On Deck", "Charmed", "NYPD Blue", "The District", and "On The Lot". Additional stage credits include The Gronholm Method at The Falcon, Aldonza in MTW's Man Of La Mancha opposite Davis Gaines for which she received an Ovation Award nomination, Kate in Reprise Theater's Kiss Me Kate for which she won an Ovation Award, Julie in Show Boat at the Goodspeed, Audrey in Little Shop Of Horrors at La Mirada, Lady of the Lake in Spamalot at Sacramento Music Circus, Ilona in She Loves Me at CLOSBC, the West Coast Premiere of Michael John LaChiusa's See What I Wanna See at the Blank Theatre, Rated RSO at the Boston Court, and Gloria in Damn Yankees for Reprise Theater. Lesli's book Neck Punch and Carry On: Advice from the "Queen", a series of 'inspirational' messages inspired from her Twitter feed (@QueenLesli), is available exclusively on iBooks. Lesli's critically acclaimed nightclub act All Hail The Queen?continues to play to audiences in New York and LA. ?