BWW Review: Lesli Margherita's RULE Shines Bright Like A Diamond
Once upon a time (last night at 7PM), in a kingdom far, far away (The Green Room 42, which, to be fair, seems far, farther away than it actually is), a fair maiden gathered the townsfolk for a night of song and dance, takedowns of Twitter trolls, fantastic wig-ography, laughs galore, moments of poignancy, and ultimately, a 70-minute, oft-repeated but much-needed reminder to celebrate autonomy, own our weirdness, and honor our inner queens.
The maiden was Lesli Margherita, who has the earned confidence of an overly handsome prince, the comic timing of a seasoned court jester, the commanding presence of a town crier, the voice of a Disney princess (who finally grew a personality), and, perhaps most importantly and certainly most apparently, the fierce, powerful heart of a queen. But we already knew that much walking in.
Her show, titled RULE, is a bit eclectic but always authentic, riddled with personal stories about how she grew up (on a ranch!), why she's come to be so empowered in her life and work (heckled by college kids while performing at Disney/won an Olivier!), and everything in-between (putting on shows with cows as co-stars, backhand stagedoor compliments, meeting Prince Charles!). And while she did enough to remind us that she was up there as a bona fide Broadway diva, she certainly made the space to be much more than that, and not just by telling us, explicitly and gloriously, that if we wanted to hear her greatest cast album hits, "You should've seen those shows when I was in them!"
Margherita's cabaret was the actualized dream-come-true of the childhood performances we all remember forcing our parents and neighbors to watch, and I mean that in the best way possible. It was authentically executed. It was honest, and it was clearly driven by the genuine desire to say something real. And lucky for us, both the something said and the someone saying it were as real as it gets.
Just like in the barnyard one-woman (multiple-cow) concerts of her youth, Lesli was in charge. Lesli was center stage. Lesli sang what she wanted, and she said what she wanted. She said A LOT of what she wanted. She even made it a point to let us know, at the very top of the show, throughout the middle, and straight to the end: this is my kingdom. I'm ruling it. If you don't like it, go rule your own. And the thing about her that made the show so electric and lovely and integrated was that she wasn't daring us or threatening us or challenging us. She was, truly and convincingly, inviting us to do it. She wanted us to do it. Just not now. Now, it was her turn.
She officially began her turn with a glimpse into the Lesli of Childhood Performance Past. She immediately proved her range in her first medley, which paid tribute to the divas of country with whom she's had a lifelong obsession. The string of songs, energetic and upbeat, was an ode to the Dollys and the Rebas of the world, and was the perfect first stop on the "this is what made me Me" Margherita tour of the evening.
Her next number was accompanied by an outwardly hysterical but below-the-surface heart-breaking tale (pun intended!) about her one-night-only Disney park performance as Ariel. And while Margherita's comical, often self-depreciating spin on each of her stories was entertaining, it was here I realized how beautifully, openly complicated she was, and how lucky we were to be witness to her working through it all. Because while she's a self-proclaimed queen, she's also still the girl who wants everything. She longs to be an Ariel, but has always been TOO something to be that girl. The thing she doesn't realize, it seems, is that she could never be an Ariel. Not because she couldn't handle the role- we all heard her Part Of Your World, and that's definitely not the issue. It's because Ariel is silent for most of the movie. And to live in a world where Lesli Margherita is silenced is more protest-worthy than any Little-Mermaid-adjacent news that could ever be trending.
As the evening progressed, Margherita turned down the pop princess and got real, slipping into serious mode to remind us that the world is dark but we're better than the bullies with a beautiful, timely, and slightly haunting mash-up of Taylor Swift's Mean and David Guetta's Titanium. It was here the night shifted, for me particularly, because it was in this moment, the crowd silent and reflective, the musicians powerful and open, when I realized that to really have the experience Margherita wants you to have, you've gotta succumb to emotion. And you've gotta be okay with that making you feel powerful.
The more I pondered this, the more I came to the conclusion that the reason she puts on such a wonderful show is not because she's creating a space that's innately critique-less, but because she's slowly and progressively removing that potential narrative from the equation altogether. She's not up there to be the best. She's not trying to be flawless. In fact, she integrated several that's not my key, change it so I can sing it! bits into her set. She's not worried about whether you'll like the set list or the stories or even the performer at the heart of it- she's too confident and talented and, frankly, empowered for that. To put it bluntly: it's not a show you see to decide whether you like it or not. It's not a show to be reviewed, traditionally or technically. It's a show to be experienced.
Margherita allowed for a space, for only 70 minutes, where we weren't all expected to sit and decide what the buzzworthy tweet or the tweet-worthy tea would be once we left the building. She was performing, for fun, for community, for performances' sake. She was performing for the very reason everyone purports to see shows like this: for the love of it. She was flipping the medium on its head, not aggressively, not necessarily intentionally, but by being a person who was willing to be up there, authentically, joyously, hilariously, for the consumption of her audience in that moment, and not for the lasting buzz-quote. She was doing it because she wanted to. She was doing it because we need it: a thing that just is what it is. As she belted her last number of the evening, Queen's Don't Stop Me Now, the lyrics felt more poignant than ever. She was having a good time, and she was fine with being the one to confidently remind us: if you wanna have a good time, I'm the one to call. And call her again, I definitely would. Because we need fun and art and music and laughter and connection without the expectation of a concrete deliverance, or a life-changing realization, or a 280-character thought that will become the hottest take on the internet. We need to get back to just liking stuff. We need to be okay with enjoying stuff for joy's sake. And for that to happen, we need to be okay with things existing just for us to like.
Throughout her show, Margherita talked a lot about what she does and what she doesn't do, what she is and what she is not, what she can be compared to, and what she can't. She spoke in metaphors often, telling us to own our kingdoms or someone else will, to sparkle, to keep calm and carry on. As she wrapped up, she gave us another little nugget of shiny inspiration: "When life hands you cubic zirconia instead of diamonds, if you keep your head up, no one will know they're not real." The show wasn't cubic zirconia, and it wasn't a diamond. It was the moment in the middle, when you're looking it over, and it occurs to you that your discerning eye could be the one to crack the case. But then you step back and you really look at it. And it's sparkling. And you realize it doesn't matter what you call it. It's pretty wonderful just to look at. And isn't that the whole point anyway?