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Interview: Catching Up With BORGHESI'S BACK! Creator and Performer Leanne Borghesi

"I create events that include not exclude."

Interview: Catching Up With BORGHESI'S BACK! Creator and Performer Leanne Borghesi Borghesi is busy. Although the singing actress and force of nature debuted a much-praised new musical comedy cabaret in 2021 titled BORGHESI'S BACK!, were Leanne to pen a memoir, a Facebook post, or even an email away message, the simple message "Borghesi's Busy" would definitely suffice.

A family woman living on two coasts, Ms. Borghesi is the CEO of an extremely active show business brand based, entirely, around her talent and tenacity. Creating solo shows for herself, duo shows for her and partner-on-stage Marta Sanders, and accepting acting gigs when they are offered, Leanne is an entertainer in the spotlight and a businesswoman in the daylight. An example to any artist who wishes to make their art their industry, Leanne Borghesi is a woman of many parts. Even as this interview was being prepared, Borghesi was boarding a plane to the United Kingdom to ply her craft. Thanks to the magic of email, though, Leanne exchanged a q&a with Broadway World to discuss building a brand, nurturing a community, and the importance of reviewers avoiding spoilers in their articles.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced with minor edits.

Leanne Borghesi, welcome to Broadway World!

Interview: Catching Up With BORGHESI'S BACK! Creator and Performer Leanne Borghesi
Michael Kushner Photography

Hi Stephen, so great to catch up with you today! It's been too long, thank you and Broadway World for taking your time to chat with me today! Are you ready for me? (laughs)

You and I are chatting long distance because you are currently in London. Are you singing for your supper, or are you just trading bagels for crumpets for a few days?

Yes, I am here in London for work, play, and the spotted dick of course! I'm here to celebrate my creative collaborator and friend David Kent for his opening night of the long-awaited and much-anticipated event of the season, SOUL SISTERS The Musical, and it's absolutely beautiful here. On this trip, we will be workshopping a new cabaret collaboration that has been taking shape over the last year. It's about the dynamic life and fascinating career of New York nightclub owner/entertainer and film actress Bertha Levine, aka "Madame Spivy". She had a fascinating career from the 1930s to the 1950s in New York as a lesbian nightclub owner, piano player to the stars like- Mabel Mercer and Liberace, and was a character actress who left to head west to claim her film stardom. I will keep you informed on what will be happening with it in the UK & New York!

Interview: Catching Up With BORGHESI'S BACK! Creator and Performer Leanne Borghesi

You are, notably, a two-coast entertainer with large followings in both San Francisco and New York City. Put a picture in my head of the work that a live performer has to go through to cultivate a presence in multiple places.

Oy, that's a BIG picture Stephen, do we have enough time? This year is my 11th year as a New York resident! Keeping all the plates spinning on both coasts is quite an act of its own and takes a lot of maintenance. Since 2002, I have been performing and producing my own solo, trio & group cabaret acts in San Francisco, and in 2010, I applied to two summer cabaret performance programs that changed my life -The Yale Cabaret Conference led by the late Erv Raible and The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center Cabaret Conference led by Michael Bush. Learning a different perspective on the "Art of Cabaret" was a life-changing experience as I was surrounded by the great expertise of my mentor teachers and musical directors- Julie Wilson, Sally Mayes, Amanda McBroom, Tovah Feldshuh, Sharon Mc Night, Penny Fuller, Barry Kleinbort, Alex Rybeck, Brad Simmons, Lillias White... I mean the list goes on and on! These two experiences lit a creative blaze within my own professional goals, and I found myself with a New York apartment that next month. I had been working toward this professional move for years to cultivate this bi-coastal presence which takes a lot of patience, support, a loving partner/family, hard work, guts, maintenance, and a lot of hustle which seems to suit my personality! Looking back, I wouldn't change a moment of it.

The shows that you create have a specific feel to them, informed by broad comedy, characters, and big vocals. How did you develop the Leanne Borghesi brand of club act?

Interview: Catching Up With BORGHESI'S BACK! Creator and Performer Leanne Borghesi Well, that is one way to put it! I've always had a great love for comedy, singing, and storytelling, it runs in my Italian/ Armenian blood. My Italian father, Ronaldo Conrado Borghesi was my idol, a larger than life 6'4" accordion playing, hearty burgundy drinking comedian who fed me copious amounts of Carol Burnett, Dorothy Loudon, Lucille Ball, Golda Tesse, and Benny Hill, while my grandmother Edith Borghesi introduced me, while she sang and played the spoons, to all the Vaudeville & Broadway great albums: Ethel Merman, Betty Hutton, Sophie Tucker, Eartha Kitt and many more. My creativity is rooted in broad humor because it's who I am and fits my "over the top" artistic personality and 6-foot frame of voluptuousness... that in itself is a lot to work with my friend, so I'll take it. The question is what do I do with it? Well, thanks to my longtime friend, Director, and upstairs neighbor, Nicolas Minas, together we have focused in on the unique style of my brand -"Theatrical Cabaret," a bold combination of the performance art of burlesque & vaudeville, the form of cabaret and the theatricality of musical theater.

Off of the stage, you are a savvy businesswoman, focusing on both your art and the nurturing of your brand. Put a picture in my head of the evolution of your show business acumen.

Savvy and brassy is a great combination Stephen! I have always gone after what (I want) in my creative work because I don't have time to sit around and wait for it. I don't fit any kind of conventional mold whatsoever and in knowing that I have reclaimed my own personal power of authenticity which has evolved into my "brand." Always evolving and learning how to integrate the intricacies of "business and art" is the challenge. I continue to make life happen while vigorously juggling all the variables...entertainer, artist, educator, wife, creative coach, sister, collaborator, friend, and ShowBroad. Learning how to balance business and art is a skill I work on daily.

The first time I ever reviewed a Leanne Borghesi show, you expressed concern that my review might overshare the details of the program. Why is it so important that reporters observe discretion when it comes to spoilers in reviews?

Oh, Stephen... I do remember asking you to retract some of my show "surprises" from your review and since that call, I've had to ask a couple of other reviewers to do the same. It's in a reviewer's nature to give an accurate account of the show, which is appropriate, but how much to share is sometimes difficult to decipher and spoilers can happen. My theatrical cabarets are just that...theatrical in the sense that I utilize a lot of "surprises", you may say "shtick" or even "gimmick" but that is the joyful flavor of my work.

I am an experience, and my shows are just that with a big focus on the audience's experience. I create them that way because I love to give the audience permission to engage, let go and enjoy the show. With the power of the internet, so much content gets posted, shared that can give away the experience for the next audience. I want the reviewer to share their authentic experience and I feel it's also my job as the producer, writer and performer to keep tabs on my artistic brand of comedy, so its value is not compromised, and the show remains fresh and exciting for every audience. That's the goal, doesn't always happen but I am conscious of it. Good question!

Your post-pandemic show BORGHESI'S BACK! has been having a successful life in New York City. Before the production first opened, you mentioned to me that you had a particular goal with this one. What was the thinking behind Borghesi's Back?

Interview: Catching Up With BORGHESI'S BACK! Creator and Performer Leanne Borghesi Yes, thank you! I have had a blast with "Borghesi's Back" which won the 2021 Broadway World Cabaret Award for Musical Comedy and landed me a nomination for this year's 2022 MAC Awards as Best Musical Comedy Performer. This show was created after 16 months, which was a very transitional and tumultuous time in my life. Long story short, the "pandammit" I call it completely decimated the artistic trajectory I was on (along with so many other colleagues) and I suddenly found myself as an advocate for my older sister who was struck by a car in a hit and run resulting in a traumatic brain injury, lasting 10 months in the hospital...so there is absolutely nothing funny about those 16 months! "Borghesi's Back" is the result of a question my mentor Co-Active Coach, Musical Director, Dana P. Rowe, asked me, "How will your certification as a co-active creative coach impact your cabaret work as a performer?"

I took this to heart and re-evaluated what success means to me as a creative. This was a game-changer in my life as I've been getting a lot clearer about what I want out of my work. I want to create work that has purpose and the purpose of "Borghesi's Back" was to bring my audiences out of isolation and back "together in one place." Another focus is accessibility, so I chose to collaborate with Don't Tell Mama in the heart of New York City and offer an affordable ticket price that provided an artistic bang for its buck that could reach new audiences. My final goals were to create, alongside my musical director Brandon Adams, with ease, joy, and connection of community. With all of this in mind, I created a piece that answers my own question - "Where do I go artistically when I have absolutely nowhere to go?"

Derived from my own life experiences, theatricality in storytelling, and a foundation of universal shared experiences, "Borghesi's Back" had its debut with an "at capacity" audience on June 19th, 2021 and ran for 6 amazing performances. Dodging the variants and canceled shows along the way, its final performance was March 5th, 2022. This show was one of the first performances back on the DTM stage after those long 16 months and it was a night and electric experience I will never forget! Take a look at the reviews, they really capture the energy so very well! I am so grateful.

You often speak of community within the industry. From where does that instinct originate?

This instinct to connect with my community of artists is one that I have always had. I am a collaborator and have always derived great joy in creating art with others that extends positive energy outward into our artistic communities with a shared set of values. I create events that include not exclude. From my kitchen table to my stages, I am always looking to connect with people who are artistic visionaries and share their gifts from a place of positivity. As an educator for many years and a certified creative co-active coach, I strive to help other artists vision and ignite their dreams while living fully in their own authenticity. Sound crazy Stephen? Maybe that's why I am #CrazyBorghesi... but in actuality, it's about finding those artists who share a similar set of values, sense of purpose around art, and being a creative.

Your brand of broad humor and big belting is very effective in a live theater where audiences can be immersed in the comedy and the sound. Has the pandemic-informed trend into virtual performance held any interest for you?

Stephen, I love LIVE performing. This "pandammit" solidified the fact that I do not derive joy from performing virtually. The "Borghesi Experience" is lost in the virtual translation and it's just not for me. Mind you, I applaud those who excel and enjoy it and with that, I will keep my cabaret performing to the in-person experience.

Your SHOW BROADS partner, Marta Sanders recently had a birthday. What is the perfect birthday present to give a Show Broad?

Interview: Catching Up With BORGHESI'S BACK! Creator and Performer Leanne Borghesi Yes, my "partner in cabaret" and fellow "ShowBroad" Marta Sanders had her 72nd birthday this month and was able to join me as a special Guest Star in "Borghesi's Back", what an exhilarating time we've had reconnecting after those 16 months! We celebrated her 70th birthday at "ShowBroads" to a full house, upstairs at Birdland in New York, March 8th, 2020 days before shutdown... and like every other artist in the world, any future bookings were truncated or rescheduled, and all future work put on hold. A great gift would be to get a ticket for April 13th or 15th at The Laurie Beechman Theatre for her new show "Lifetime Achievement...or...Whatever Happened to That Nice Quaker Girl?" I tell ya, she is an inspiration and such a fabulous performer who has never given up on her craft! She will be honored, alongside Chita Rivera, as recipient of The Lifetime Achievement Award on April 12th at this year's Manhattan Association of Cabaret's and Clubs Awards. It's sure to be a most fabulous night!

Leanne, how's your lovely family, and how did your quarantine garden renovation go?

Stephen, thank you for asking, we are all doing better getting back to a more integrated life. My wife Sharon is healthy and very active in our community as a member of the Lions Club helping many people in need during this pandammit as well as providing sound assistance to artists. The garden renovation next door at my sister Jodi's house went great and has provided many socially distanced, outside get-togethers. My sister, who was hit by the car, is safe and continues to recover in care so I am as grateful as I can be. Reevaluating and focusing on good mental health has been a priority for me while keeping focus on all the great structures I've created due to this major life transition.

Leanne Borghesi, thank you so much for visiting with Broadway World today. Say hi to the Royals for us.

Stephen, you are so welcome, and thank you Broadway World for all you do for all of us and for taking time with me today! Catch me at www.LeanneBorghesi.com for upcoming events and I am having high tea this Sunday with Her Royal Majesty and will make sure to facetime you to say cheerio!!

Read Bobby Patrick's review of Borgheis's Back HERE, Betsyann Faiella's review HERE, and Tulis McCall's review HERE.

Visit the Leanne Borghesi website HERE.

Learn more about Soul Sisters HERE.

Learn more about David Kent HERE.

Interview: Catching Up With BORGHESI'S BACK! Creator and Performer Leanne Borghesi



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