BWW Interview: Leanne Borghesi And Marta Sanders of SHOW BROADS at Birdland
Some enchanted evening. You may see a Show Broad. Across a crowded room. And when you do, grab her, hang onto her, be her friend, she'll be your friend. You'll bond over beads, lashes and boas, and before you know it you will be doing a show together. The Sisterhood of the Show Broads is a show business sorority and these powerful women can rely on one another in all situations... even while secretly eyeing each others' boas and wondering how to get that bad boy around their own shoulders!
Nightclub veteran Marta Sanders caught Leanne Borghesi's act last year and saw a reflection of herself in the newest member of the New York cabaret community. Instantly noticing that Borghesi had a special kind of magic, Sanders befriended the boa bedecked belter, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Out of that friendship was born a show, and that show is about to have its' New York City debut at the legendary club Birdland. The Show Broads gave a sneak preview of their particular brand of musical comedy furioso at an evening with Susie Mosher's Lineup and the crowds were wowed by the sheer audacity of two women living and performing out loud to such aplomb. It was clear that the cabaret community has a new duo to bring the laughs, to sing the songs, and to lay them in the aisles.
Before the world premiere of SHOW BROADS on November 17th, I sat down with Misses Borghesi and Sanders for an in-depth chat about what makes a Show Broad, honesty in one's work, the difference between camaraderie and competition, and what makes a life in show business (or a life, period) worth living.
This interview has been edited for space and content.
What is a Show Broad?
M: You're looking at it.
L: What is a Show Broad...
M: A Show Broad is a broad, is a woman who's a broad, who says what's on her mind. She's not being bowled over. AND She can sing, she can act. The talent matches the attitude. There are broads that can't sing, they can't act, or they can act or they can sing. The combination of this broad is everything that you do. Larger than life. They kick as and take names. It doesn't mean that you can't be feminine but it means that you are in charge. You speak your mind because you won't be run over. But it doesn't mean you can't listen. It doesn't mean that you don't listen. You're not cruel. Neither one of us are cruel. We're both loving, we're kind, but we're larger than life.
L: Yeah! A show broad also... you've got a woman who can walk her talk and that makes it happen. She is not afraid to put on the feathers, not afraid of being loud and say what's on her mind unabashedly. It's different than a showgirl, very pristine. A show broad can give it to you in a... not a low brow humor but with a little grit as well. You have to be able to walk to talk.
M: To carry the show. A showgirl doesn't carry the show. A showgirl is part of the show and that's a beautiful thing. She moves beautiful. That's not to diminish what a showgirl is. Showgirls are fabulous and you can have some show broads that are showgirls
L: You take it to the next step and make it real. Real between us.
Does one become a show broad or is one born a show broad?
And what will audiences get to see when they come to see Show Broads at Birdland?
L: A journey from beginning to end. I come from, we both from come from cabaret and theater. I've been coining a lot of my work as theatrical cabarets, being able to utilize props and theatrical antics
M: And I come from nightclubs. Props. Show. Larger than life. Cabaret's more intimate, and of course, I've been in cabaret for years.
L: You can do that.
M: We both can do that. But nightclub is as important to me. And there are two different genres because cabaret is much more intimate, but it doesn't mean that nightclub can't be intimate, but nightclub for me tends to be a space that has space, where there's room for a headdress. where there's room for a boa. where there's room for larger than life. because physically we're both, we're not... for me, going into a cabaret, I'm always aware of the ceiling.
Where is it and how do I feel in the space because the whole energy, like Leanne's, is so big and you're born with that, and then it's developed, it's nurtured, it's supported, so that you get out of the way of, it gets even bigger, more focused, bigger. You don't want to blow everybody away, if you're in a little tiny room. It's hard, and to hold back is more work than to be able to let it open. So we both I think naturally fit on a larger space.
L: That was what we, in looking for the spaces... when you're talking about spaces, where could we do this? Even before we started creating the show, and Birdland came up to us both because we liked the tiered seating. You're in a nightclub, you're in a space that can handle two larger personalities on one medium-size stage together. But our wingspan can... the nightclub work gives us the ability to have some surprises and do things that are a little out of the, out of the intimate cabaret feel.
So there are some surprises for your audience?
M: OH, yeah.
How did the two of you become acquainted?
L: I met you at a Richard Skipper event! We did a Halloween show, but we really didn't get to know each other really until The Cabaret Convention last year.
M: I heard you sing and I was impressed. I heard you sing and I thought "This woman there." I thought "That lady. All right." And then I came to your show.
Did you know immediately that you would be working together, or was that an idea that developed as your friendship formed?
M: When I saw her perform...
L: Mood Swings.
M: I was intrigued when I saw her perform. She was at The Triad doing her show Mood Swings, and I thought, "I want to see her." And I sat there, and from the very first moment I hated her.
M: Well I say that because it was a natural jealousy. I saw myself in her. It's the first time that I looked at somebody who had... "Wait a minute! That could be me! With the feathers and the fans and the glitter!" Because that's all what I do! And here you are and you're doing all this. So when I say I hated you, I say that...
L: I know.
M: Okay. I love you but, before, I hated you because I liked you, because I thought you were so great. I went, "Wait a minute, who's that person? Whoa bitch!" And I mean that in the nicest way! And that was when I saw the show and I said "Now I'm intrigued." It's the first time I've been intrigued.
L: So after the show, I come into the audience and I see my friend Marta there and I'm like, "Marta! Did you enjoy it?" She leaned over and she pulled me close. She said, "F*ck, I've met my match." And I was like, "Oh wow!" But she said "I loved it. That was fabulous."
L: At lunch the next week... we met at the diner. We met a couple of different times. And then we were both on the bill for The Cabaret Convention. At this point, we're talking.
M: So now we have a friendship, a relationship that we're developing that is based on a mutual respect as artists. You get white hair and you become a mentor you become a certain age and you become a mentor and it happens naturally. So now we're talking, I'm able to talk to Leanne about the theatrics, the stage, and the work, what it is, what I've learned, and you want to play as many of those stages as you can because each one has magic, especially when they're big stages. And that's why for The Cabaret Convention Rose Hall is so fabulous cause she walked out, she'd just stand back and she'd do it.
L: We were on the same night. I closed the first act.
M: And I closed the second.
L: That comradery, that friendship, that ability to have that moment together was something extremely special. I think it was really that experience that solidified us, with me saying "Wouldn't it be fun to do something?"
What is it that each of likes most about working with the other?
M: Go ahead.
L: (Laughing hard).
M: Give me time to think.
L: Mine is your dedication to the excellence of what you do but collaborating with people around you and being able to say what it is you need, but also be open to the ability to new suggestions.
M: Well I would say the same about you. And I certainly appreciate your producing skills. This is a producer here. Every person on this project has been carefully chosen carefully and respectfully chosen and brought into the project. And that's really been Leanne. I've kind of walked around going "that's fine with me." I've deferred it all because that's also part of my personality. When it comes to what I do, if I don't feel something is right, then I'll speak up. But I'm always willing to learn. You're here, you're dedicated. And I'm here but I'm distracted by other things. Your focus has been really appreciated, and the work! The team that you brought together to make this all happen and when you did it, getting the pictures when we got the pictures, which has informed us, getting a visual of who we were with these pictures.
L: Those lights came on that day you were here. I didn't know what was up. I'd never seen that! Those lights hit and boom! There she was. And I was thinking "how, where do I fit into this? I don't know what to do." I'm like "Oh!." That has informed us to what we're creating.
M: And that's what you see on stage, which is fun for you. Fun for me, fun for the audience because we're still, we're reacting to each other all the time, we're still discovering about each other. Neither one of us has to compensate for the other one
L: We can be free to be who we are. I'm having so much fun watching her and getting so much from watching people watch her. Oh sure, I'm coming out: "Oh, and here I am. Oh, what do I bring? Oh, what am I bringing to this?"
Leanne, you've specialized in shows where you create a larger than life character to take your audience on a journey. Have you ever created a show just around Leanne Borghesi?
L: Yes. "Does This Mic Stand Make Me Look Fat?" was me and the microphone, and testing out those waters.
How's that going?
L: I think every show is a piece of yourself and what you're ready to share with people. And the more I do it and the more I try different things, I am myself, even though I may be a caricature of me. I feel like in this piece I'm myself, I do the numbers that I would do. It's definitely a journey
of what you want to share with people. All of my shows are me, but they're heightened versions of me and I'm starting to realize I have something to say. I think that comes with being in New York and feeling more comfortable and finding out who I am. And the city's taught me so much to just start being me. So I might go back to something like that. That was a great experiment and I loved that it was a small audience and that it wasn't a grand affair, but it was also something that's different for me to do. I may come back to more of those, as people get to know my work and I feel like I have something to share with them in a different way versus going the other way.
Marta, you've worked extensively abroad - how are New York audiences different from those in other countries?
M: They're very loud. They are very appreciative. That's a very New York thing. Whoa! Whoa! I'm sitting on the stage and they go "woo!" That's there because we want it. We understand that. But that's what New York is. New York is the give and take, and people appreciate here, people bringing their game. Because it's a type a personality city. So everybody's here to make it. Whatever that job is, they're here to make it. And so they appreciate that in other people. I think other audiences are just not, depending on, a lot of it depends on the country. You know, in Latin America they sing along. They love to sing along, which surprised me when that first happened. But you go to a concert of a big Latin star, radio city, the audience is singing along.
That's a great compliment.
L: Also it's that community, with the music.
M: It's different than in American. They're singing all the time. I found in Russia there was a great appreciation of my intensity. My dramatics. They love, Don't Cry For Me. Argentina, they loved the big ballads. I love it. Cause they're very dramatic people, but they're not necessarily as "woo!" that are New Yorkers, and not necessarily as verbal. They can applaud. That's probably the big thing with New York is that you get a really a rowdy crowd. Now, I'm trying to think... when I'm out in California they will too. I think that the gay crowd, which you would get in California if you're doing cabarets, tend to be more verbal just because they are, it's a different perspective. That's the difference. People can be appreciative, but they can be quieter and always, that challenges. Knowing that and not taking it personally.
Leanne, you're spending a lot of time traveling between New York and San Francisco, where you are a big part of the cabaret scene. Which airline has the friendliest flight attendants?
L: I only fly Alaska, so a lot it was Virgin - rest in peace, Virgin airlines. And now it's Alaska. I live five minutes from the airport. It's a direct flight and gives us the best frequent flyer miles.
How are their flight attendants?
L: They're wonderful. They're really good.
Marta, share with our readers one of your favorite memories of working on the original Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
So many! I think that one of my all-time favorites was when the Madam gave a workshop for the girls. We sat in a rehearsal hall and she sat on a stool in the middle, and we sat in a circle around her, just answering questions that we would throw out to her about the whorehouse. And I remember my question, cause remember they had the list of what was allowed and what wasn't allowed - and no groups. I looked at that and I said, "Tell me about that." I said, "I'm surprised that you wouldn't have some group activity." She said "We gave them what they wanted" so she answered my question. It was such a beaut. There's a beautiful thing about that. And the other great thing about that, about her, was she looked like a plain Jane. She looked like everybody's favorite aunt, just innocent, you know, not nothing pretty about it, just not ugly, just very plain. But then she told a story about how somebody must've said something about the girls and how they presented themselves. And she said, "Well sometimes," she said, "I realized that I had to show the girls what I meant and I would go up the stairs and I changed"... she physically started changing on her stool and she said, "and I'd come down and I'd show them what I meant." And all of a sudden she had this incredibly sexy body, beautiful gams, the legs, you saw things about her that you hadn't seen, that this very plain Jane kind of simple, in a million years. And she transformed into this very sexy woman. Never forgotten it. I just loved her for that. I loved the fact that she was having so much fun and the sheriff said he gave everything that he made from this production, he gave to her. Cause clearly they had a very close friendship and it was implied and probably true that they had a love affair as well. There was a great camaraderie and she was in a wheelchair and the production and she'd be pushed on in the group scenes and she decided she just loved Broadway and she wanted to move to New York and go on Broadway.
L: This was a real Madam?
M: It was the real Madam, from the real whorehouse. Yeah.
M: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That's a real whorehouse, it was a real deal, it was based on a true story, it was so great. Yeah. So that's, that's probably, I mean there are many memories, but that's probably my, one of my absolute favorites.
Leanne, I see you at a lot of cabaret shows. Why is it important to you, to see all the shows that you see?
L: It's a community. We've talked about this too, Marta and me. You can't see everybody's show, but when you're... it's important to be in the audience and be there for the performer, to give them your energy. If they can come and see your show, I never go to someone just because, or expect them to come see me. I'm not that transactional person. It's important to build a friendship because not everybody does the same thing on stage. And when I do what I do and I go to see other people's work, they get to know me as a person. They get to meet me at their show. I get to meet them and get to know them. It's about being a part of the community and supporting it, but also getting inspired by other people's work. And hopefully, they can be inspired by yours. The only person I'm competitive with is myself. I'm truly not a competitive person with other people because I already... there's nothing I need. I already have everything I need. There are things I want. And so I'm striving for those dreams. But if something doesn't happen, it's okay because I already am, I'm fine. So these experiments of art, this exploration of energy and passion, I came to New York to do this and this is my focus. So the goal, the dream gets you here and when you're really here, I've realized that it's work. It's all the same that I've always done. But to be able to step back and go, wow, I'm in New York. Or wow, that person did that. That's wild. I saw Mark Nadler's show and seeing and respecting him on stage. Then you have a different knowledge of the person in their true voice - I think it's what we share on stage. But it doesn't mean that's who we are in real life. It's a part of us. So there's room for everybody in this community, which is why it's great. Everybody has something different to bring to it, which not everybody is always open to accepting that, but I don't want to surround myself. I'll see people that I enjoy... I'm not going to surround myself with anybody that makes me feel in any negative way or competitive. I want to support their art. Plus, it helps me learn.
Marta, as the tenured member of the Show Broads. What salient words of wisdom do you have the young women coming up in cabaret?
M: You know, one of the quotes that a friend gave me years ago that I carry with me "Go where they want you." You have to be true to yourself. Finding that is really the journey that's true for everybody. I think the cabaret stage allows everybody to be, to find who they are. You're not limited. That's the beauty of cabaret. Anybody can do anything really. So finding your voice, what that is. Surround yourself with people that respect you and that you respect their opinions. The other quote that resonates always with me, and I use these for myself, so it's not just somebody else's. "People do what they want. The rest is just excuses." Cabaret is a private party. You have to fill those seats. And so if you think it's anything other than that, you could be terribly disappointed if somebody doesn't come. That's a big lesson to learn. And that's true, not only in cabaret, that's for any kind of creative person. You're putting it out there and you expect your friends to come and support it. And if you were really my friend, you would support it. But you know, this is a long journey. You're doing a lot of these things and your friends can't come to everything and they can't support everything and not all your friends will understand what you're doing or know what that means. We talk about this in our show. We address all of these... before we started actually physically working, we did about seven, eight months of talking and getting to know and notetaking and lists and ideas. You sometimes your friends aren't your fans.
And I think that having a life outside of cabaret ... you've got to have a life. I just have been very, very grateful that over the years that I have a life outside of cabaret so I can take a break just for me.
L: It goes back to that adage though: the theater doesn't owe you anything. That's the cabaret stage, too. It doesn't owe you anything. You've got to make it, you have to work. If you want it, you gotta make it happen. You have to have something to say. I think that part of the problem is finding and continuing to find something to say, and that comes back to having a life.
What's most important to a Show Broad? A Boa or False Eyelashes?
Together: The Boa! (Laughing uproariously)
Show Broads plays Birdland November 17th at 5:30 pm. For information and tickets visit the Birdland Website
Visit Leanne Borghesi's Website where you will find all social media links at the bottom of the home page.
Visit Marta Sanders' Website where you will find all social media links at the bottom of the home page
Photos by Stephen Mosher