An Audience with the Queen
By Jay S. Jacobs
It was just BroadwayCon time again, as some of the biggest names in theater braved the cold and congregated to the New York Midtown Hilton and the Ziegfield Theater to meet, greet and chat with some of their biggest fans. BroadwayCon is a celebration of all things theatrical, a heady mixture of lectures, live performances, memorabilia, cosplay, pictures and autographs with some of the biggest names on stage.
This year had a huge, all-star grouping of some of the greatest talent from the Great White Way. Appearing were everyone from Tina Fey and the cast of Mean Girls to Anthony Rapp, Andrew Rannells to the cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Kristin Chenoweth to Orfeh, Sara Bareilles (on Facetime!) to Michael Urie, Donna Murphy to Laura Benanti.
Also there, having just flown in from Los Angeles, where she is doing some television work, is Lesli Margherita. Known affectionately as Queen Lesli in stage circles – her celebrity panel at BroadwayCon is called “High Tea with Queen Lesli” – Margherita is a lifer, having appeared at every BroadwayCon.
Margherita is best known for her Broadway run in Matilda, as well as her award-winning London performance in Zorro. However, she has been in many other shows and touring companies, done much work in film and on television. She even just released a CD of her cabaret show at Feinstein’s 54 Below called Rule Your Kingdom.
We caught up with Margherita at the Hilton Hotel Midtown in New York, home for BroadwayCon for 2019. Even though she was just getting over a cold, Queen Lesli was excited for a busy day of greeting the fans. In a conference room at the hotel, she told as all about her career and the experience of being a part of the convention.
When you were growing up, what was the first musical that you saw and thought: Wow, that’s what I want to do with my life?
I saw Annie in San Francisco. One of the girls messed up, one of the orphans. And I was like, (laughs) “I could do that.” Then I auditioned when they needed a kid, so I ended up getting it. (laughs again) I had a hard time singing before. But, yeah, it was Annie.
What was your favorite musical growing up?
I loved – it’s still my favorite – Evita. Growing up as a kid, like how grand is that? But also, I loved all those big Andrew Lloyd Webber [shows]. I loved Cats. Phantom [of the Opera]. I had a Phantom mask in my bedroom. Phantom perfume. I loved all of those.
What was the first role that you had when you knew you could make a living at this?
Probably as a kid, honestly. I think it was probably that company of Annie. I was like… (shrugs) But, as a career, I feel like even now you feel like, “Can I do this as a career?” (laughs) It’s ongoing.
Probably most people know you for your role in Mathilda – The Musical.
How did you get that role?
I had been living in LA. I love LA. I was like, “Oh, I’ll get to Broadway eventually.” I ended up on the West End [the theater district in London] doing a show called Zorro. The Matilda people had seen me in that show. So, when Matilda was coming to Broadway, they got in touch with me and asked me if I wanted to audition. I flew out a bunch of times. So many times, over like months and months and months. Kept flying back and flying back. And then I got it. It was shocking. I had auditioned for Broadway shows before, but I wasn’t living in New York. So, then I was like, “I guess I’ve got to move.” Yeah, I’ve kind of been here ever since. But it was really because they saw me in a show in London. They were all Brits. So, thank the British. It was my love of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Brits.
In the old days, you had to wait at the stage door to meet Broadway stars. What is it like to now be able to communicate with stage fans on social media, or hang out with them at BroadwayCon?
I love it. I know some people are weird about social media, but I love social media. That, to me, was super exciting. Anytime that I can connect with somebody… I would have loved that as a kid, to try and reach out to anybody. I still reach out to people that I’m fans of online. I just think it’s the coolest thing that somebody takes the time to tweet me or send me something. I can take the time to answer them back or favorite. I love it. I think it’s great. And you kind of feel like you know them when you actually meet them in person. The only bad thing is like, “Do you remember me? I tweeted you,” and I’m like: aiii.., ahh… a little more. Give me something more. But yeah, no, I love it. I think it’s great.
As a theater fan yourself, are there any celebrities who you are looking forward to seeing at BroadwayCon?
I’m a total fangirl for anybody. There are people that I’ve met… like, I love Donna Murphy, and I’ve met her several times. And I’m still like (shyly) “Hi, Ms. Murphy.” And she’s like, “Lesli, we’ve done things together.” (laughs) But I still get weirded out. I mean, meeting Anthony Rapp the first year, I was a Rent-head, so I was… (laughs again) I still walk around, and I get really weird. I am weird. Yeah.
How did you get the nickname Queen Lesli?
I gave it to myself.
That’s great. You coronated yourself.
I did. As a kid, I used to write “Lesli rules” on everything. Later, my dad always called me Little Queen. (laughs) I gave it to myself, because I knew that somebody would probably give me a title I wouldn’t like, so why not give yourself a title that you do like? It has nothing to do with thinking I’m better. It’s just a reminder to myself that I rule me, and no one else can try to do that. So, I encourage people to give themselves titles. And it stuck. I always have to explain it, because a lot of people are like (through the side of her mouth) “Oh, she thinks she’s so great.” No. It’s not that. I just don’t want you to call me a fart-head or something else. Unless I’m the head fart-head, then that’s fine.
What can fans expect from “High Tea with Queen Lesli,” your panel at BroadwayCon?
(Excited) I don’t know! Normally I do my own kind of show or a panel, but this year I’m not in charge of it. So, Brian Reavey, who I love, is asking all the hard-hitting questions. I think it’s just they’ll expect honesty to a fault. Yeah, I don’t know. I’m excited about it.
You’ve released a CD of your cabaret show at Feinstein’s 54 Below. How do you choose songs for shows like that one?
It was hard, because we knew we were recording that one, so I was like there’s so much I want to put on. But, the shows change, the message is always the same: of ruling your kingdom. The songs change, and there are always songs that I hear on the radio that I’m like, “Oh my God, I want to do a version of that.” So, it’s always changing. But that was difficult, because I was wanted to put out the best possible. And it was really important to me to put on the monologues that went with the songs, because they are just as important to me as the songs. We wanted to do it live. I’m so happy with how it turned out and happy with what we chose.
Yeah, I was listening to some of the tracks and it sounded really great…
If you could choose any role to play in theater history, what would be your dream role?
Well, I really do want to do Evita. Oh, there are so many. Fanny Brice, I’d love to do Funny Girl. There’s too many. I got lucky that I got to do a ton of them regionally. Probably in history… I don’t know, there’s too many.
You’ve also done TV work. How is television different than working on stage?
It’s so much easier. TV is so much easier. (laughs) It just is. I think people don’t realize how hard eight shows a week is. “You only have to work two hours a night.” It’s not that. It’s constant. Taking care of yourself. TV is like – you wait around. I love… I end up doing a ton of dramatic stuff on TV. I love sitcoms, because it’s the closest to theater. But, yeah, it’s a lot easier.
Is it hard being bi-coastal?
No, it’s great. My dog flies so much with me.
What kind of dog do you have?
I have a Jack Russell. He’s the best.
What’s his name?
Stewie. He just flies everywhere with me. I’ve always been bi-coastal. Or, bi-country-al. (laughs) It just works. I enjoy it. I’m totally lucky that I get to go back and forth into TV world and theater world.
Speaking of going back and forth, you were in Matilda, then you left, and you came back for the end of the run. What was it like returning to the role?
It was the best. I always knew I wanted to close the show. I didn’t think it would be that soon. I thought it was going to run for years and years and years. The timing of it was perfect. They just called and said, “We have three months left. Do you want to come back?” (laughs) It was perfect and the exact way I would have wanted it.
What is the whole Comic-con experience like for an actor?
I’ve been here since day one. The first BroadwayCon, we were snowed in and there were like six of us that had to come up with content, because people couldn’t get here. So, this, to me, is one of my favorite events. It’s why I flew in for a day, because it means so much to me. It’s the first time that you really get to see all the fans. And be a fan. I love going to the panels. I’m doing the same thing that everybody else is. I’m going, “I want to see that.” It’s just the best thing. Also, for actors you get to see your friends that you don’t [usually] get to see. They’re all working at the same time you are. So, it’s really fun to see everybody.
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 16, 2019.
Pictures © 2019 Deborah Wagner. All rights reserved.