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BWW Review: Lesli Margherita is All Brass and Belting in One-Woman Show 'Broad' at Birdland, Paying Tribute to the Women Who Never Backed Down

Lesli Margherita performs in her one-woman show Broad at Birdland Jazz.

"Broad: A term originated in the 1930s meaning woman. Less respectable than 'lady,' but much more respectable than 'bitch.' Broad: An independent, aggressive, assertive woman, usually in show business. Broads sing loud, are sarcastic, and are in your face. Broads are generally moderately attractive or better, never seen without their best dresses and perfect makeup, and they know how to compete and win in a man's world."

This is how Lesli Margherita began her one-woman show at Birdland Jazz on July 25, the second of a two-performance return engagement at the club. Reading from a music stand so as not to mince words, Margherita recited the dictionary definition of her show's eponymous moniker, because if nothing else, through Broad, Margherita wanted to make sure her audience understood one thing: Broads like her will never be deterred.

Paying homage to the women who paved the stiletto-scuffed linoleum before her, most of whom never received the respect they warranted, the show's conception was a bit of brilliance on behalf of Margherita, who, with her throwback looks and bawdy humor, has spent the better part of her illustrious-but-still-ascending career with the descriptor thrust upon her.

She is in many ways a throwback personified, which could explain why she kicked off her set with "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas," originally sung by a broad who epitomized the term, Sophie Tucker. Margherita melted into the song like butter, unleashing her bouncy belt throughout while milking the comedy found in lines such as, "When I kiss someone they get their tonsils taken out" to delectable effect.

In that same vein, Margherita then transitioned to the sultry "Come Up and See Me Sometime," first given voice by Mae West. Margherita, who originated the role of Mrs. Wormwood in Broadway's Matilda the Musical and won an Olivier Award for her performance in Zorro, did not particularly attempt to veer from West's origination of the tune. In her transparency about these broads' influence upon her performative style, though, the cover felt more emulated than mimicked. It must be noted, however, in belting the song's final note, it was clear that West's voice could never have competed with the forcefulness of Margherita's.

"Every man I meet wants to protect me," said Margherita upon finishing the tune. "I can't figure out what from," she added, attributing that quote to Miss West. Margherita astutely broke up her set list with numerous quotes from broads of all realms, some whose songs she'd be singing, others whom she just idolized (see: Miss Piggy).

Hoisting herself onto the piano, she took on two delicious numbers, Billie Holiday's "My Old Flame" and Dinah Washington's "Relax Max." The latter ranked among the more forgettable of the tongue-in-cheek tunes of the evening, but that only speaks to the exquisite song selection. Margherita then read a quote from one Dolly Parton, and aptly so. "Let's talk about the two white elephants in the room," she said, gesturing to the area beneath her neck. She then chirped jovially to Rusty Warren's "Bounce Your Boobies," the buoyancy of which was matched only by the buoyancy of, well, you know where that was going.

Though Margherita is decidedly emblematic of yesteryear, that isn't to say she can't modernize a standard. Take, for instance, her brassy rendition of "Guy What Takes His Time," sung famously by Ms. West but resurging in the 2010 film Burlesque as performed by Christina Aguilera. Margherita's interpretation was much more reminiscent of the latter: jazzy and aware of its unabashed sexiness.

The set hit its stride with a series of heavy-hitting broad tunes with the common theme of getting what you deserve and ruling your own empire (her Twitter handle, @QueenLesli, now even more so deserving), such as an Eartha Kitt medley featuring "Champagne Taste" and "My Discarded Men" and Peggy Lee's "Why Don't You Do Right?" The songs flowed rapidly, however, the briskness of the interludes never felt choppy, due in large part to the competence and skill of an impeccable band (Gabriel Mann, trumpet; Josh Plattner, clarinet; Michael Burgess, guitar; Ryan Holt, bass, and Brett Ryback on the piano) and musical direction by Mr. Ryback.

As the evening strutted towards its end, Margherita knew she had to whip out the big guns, which, in terms of broads, refers to Bette Midler. "Obviously, I steal everything from her," she said, (somewhat) kidding. She went with two of Midler's signature tunes: "Stuff Like That," again adding a flair of modernization to an old-fashioned number, and "He's a Tramp," which featured intermittent barking sounds from Ryback.

The show concluded on a note of poignancy. "I am telling you from experience that broads get hurt the most," said Margherita, before singing Holiday's "My Man," the agony with which she breathed into the tune palpable. She crooned one final Tucker number, "Some of These Days," driving home what she hoped would be the lesson learned from the show's exalted broads. "In researching these women I have learned so much more about what it is to own who you are," she said. "They are authentically themselves and, if you take away anything from this, be you."

In her quest to demonstrate who these women before her were, Margherita was able to simultaneously- and effectively- show her audience who she is as well. She may draw from the Mae Wests, Bette Midlers and Miss Piggys, but it is clear through Broad that Margherita has a keen sense of self, as both a person and performer. She has a wicked sense of humor, particularly pertaining to herself, and she knows there is power in the admission of pain in defiance of defeat. She is as much a broad as they come, and it would be utterly unsurprising if, decades from now, she were ranked amongst her predecessors- with a chesty belt to surpass them all.

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From This Author Casey Mink