Lesli Margherita is a lot of things. She is an Olivier Award winner, a Broadway belter, an actor, a Star Wars geek, a Muppet freak, an LGBTQ ally, and above all, she is a Queen. Her message to the world is simple: Rule Your Kingdom. Leading by example, she has made a kingdom for herself and has shared her journey through song, storytelling, and social media – bumps and all. Recently, at the end of a self-tape audition, the camera kept rolling and she had a breakdown erupting in tears of exhaustion and frustration.
The isolation of COVID and the “audition after audition” life in front of a cold camera lens with the same blank background as a set had taken its toll. “You feel awful. You feel like the worst actor. Am I ever going to get a gig again?” Instead of hitting delete and posting a filtered selfie, she shared it. She thought it was more important to remain honest in a sea of the smoke of mirrors that Instagram has become. She wanted to share that COVID was affecting us all, Olivier Award on the shelf or not. This is why we love Lesli – behind the big hair, the big chest, and the big voice, she’s one of us. And despite some audition life lows during COVID, she has persevered and shown that COVID can’t keep a theatre girl down and has taken the show from the stage to your screen. She is a Queen in every sense of the word, and we are living for it. How did she become the self-branded Queen?
It was accidental. From childhood, I’ve written “Lesli Rules” (80s kid) on EVERYTHING. I still do it. I was tired of everyone deciding on a label for me. I decided to give myself one – the only one that mattered. Queen was natural. I like crowns and sparkles and was already decreeing that I ruled. I believe you can call yourself whatever you want. I rule. I rule ME. My kingdom of ME.
On stage, she boasts a larger-than-life personality whether it’s playing a fiery gypsy in Zorro, a mother from hell in Matilda, a tyrannical vamp in Dames at Sea, or the Princess Emoji in Emojiland, she seems like the bad girl of Broadway. She’s that girl in high school who you’d smoke with under the bleachers but who gets every lead in the Spring musical … or is she?
Sorry to burst your bubble. I was and still am a good girl. Never smoked – I cannot stand the smell of pot. LOL. I was the Homecoming Queen who also got the lead roles. I was that annoying head cheerleader who got along with everyone and never got into trouble because I was already working and had my eye on the prize. Gross, I know.
She is a California girl who went from singing to cows on the ranch to graduating from UCLA. Success would not wait for Lesli and she got her first big break right out of college. In theatre? No … In a TV show about kids in a theatre school. It was called Fame L.A.; the role was Liz Clark.
Liz was a comedian. I had NO experience doing that. My final audition was at the famous Comedy Club in LA, doing improv. I sure pulled that one out of my butt. Looking back, I kind of hate that I got the job from my first big audition – it was a huge letdown after that because I thought getting every job was just that easy. It was not.
Not one to follow the rules, she finally got to Broadway – backward. Most actors start on Broadway then cross their way over the pond to the West End. Not Lesli. As chance would have it, Zorro, the Gypsy King musical in London, was looking for its heroine, the red-hot Inez.
I was called in to audition for a reading of one act, and I was called in for a different role. When I got in the room, I just said, “I’m not auditioning for that other role. Ha!” They had me sing Bamboleo, and the rest is history. Well, three years, about ten readings, and a fight with the union to get me there.
Her performance would earn her the highly coveted Olivier Award, the highest honor in British theatre and England’s version of the Tony Awards. No place really for an American. But there she was with a nomination. Where was she when she found out about the nomination?
In a rehearsal for a reading of something else. It’s not like the Tonys, there is no campaigning, or endless articles predicting nominees – it’s just the cool Oliviers. I didn’t even know nominations were coming out. I loved that.
She would win that award. She has joked onstage that it was because she flashed her panties during her performance. Her acceptance speech is on YouTube and is an utter joy to see her excitement and energy in the middle of a very British awards show.
Americans didn’t really win, at least not many had then, and everyone told me not to expect to win. Plus, my category was men and women together – another thing I loved, so I REALLY did not expect to win. I prepared nothing, as evidenced by my nutty speech. It was very me. Afterward, very respectable British actors wanted pictures with me like a zoo animal because they thought I was so funny … and American.
Broadway took notice and she would star in Matilda the Musical as Mrs. Wormwood, Matilda’s colorful mom. The show was accompanied by a flurry of press and attention from theatre critics to a new generation of Broadway theatergoers alike. From singing on ranch land in her youth to gathering herself a few minutes before curtain on her first preview, she was a mix of emotions.
I had waited SO long to get to Broadway, no one would hire me, and I had years of close calls. So, when it happened, I was a mess. Not opening night, but the first preview. That was my actual debut and I just remember being in the wings so emotional. I never took that experience for granted, and I still don’t; getting to be on Broadway is a dream, so I don’t get people complaining about it.
She played that role to the hilt – about 1000 times, with a cast of children. It wasn’t Xanax or Pinot Grigio that got her through.
(It was) realizing that I had worked my entire life to get to be on that stage. If you stay in the grateful, it’s easier on the days your body would like to stop. Plus, the kids were rad – and had the time of their lives, it was hard not to get caught up in that.
Her debut album, Rule Your Kingdom: Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below, is quintessential Lesli. Nothing is off the table and she tells her life story in the best way she knows how – from the heart. Her stories are as vibrant and colorful as her singing.
I have been doing my cabaret shows for over a decade – way before even coming to NY. It was always a dream to do a live album because the stories in my shows are just as important as the songs. Sometimes more so. I am for sure going to do a studio album at some point, but I love that this show was captured.
She had played the West End, she had played Broadway, but recording her show at the iconic Feinstein’s/54 Below was all eyes on her, not only was it her debut album, but it was LIVE.
I love imperfection, even though I am a perfectionist. Since I was a kid, I have been listing to Saint Bette’s Mud Will Be Flung Tonight – and I always loved how real it was. We recorded three nights and picked our favorites. So much did not make it on! Special edition, maybe …
There is a special quality that Lesli possesses onstage in her cabaret show. Country music, Broadway, pop, it is all there in her signature belt. Her voice comes from a Broadway background but is too varied to be categorized by one genre.
Aww, thx! I grew up on a cattle ranch – country has always been my favorite. My voice has always been different, which now I love, but it is what it is. I do not avoid sounding any one way, it just doesn’t do that. I hate when people try and change their sound.
A hilariously sad highlight of the show is her segment about social media. No celebrity is immune to social media haters. Especially during COVID and our last administration, we have seen a huge wave of keyboard warriors who get pleasure from attacking others on everything from appearance to lifestyle. Lesli’s surefire way to combat social media haters?
Chardonnay, then crying, then picking myself up and remembering that someone hates themselves so much that they took time out of their own life to comment on me. I win. About five years ago, during Dames at Sea, I stopped reading reviews. I would spiral. None of it matters, good or bad. My performances are mine, and if someone does not like them, that’s fine. I don’t like raisins in anything, but I don’t waste time writing an anti-raisin diatribe. People suck. Once you realize they will not stop sucking, you decide not to care. This doesn’t sound right …
2021 brought in a new way to experience theatre – digitally. Lesli, with a cast of three other theatre veterans, took part in You I Like on PlayhouseLive, filmed at and produced by the historic Pasadena Playhouse. Conceived and musically directed by theater veteran Andy Einhorn (Broadway’s Hello, Dolly, Carousel), the show featured the music of Jerry Herman, known for his optimistic take on life through show tunes, coming at a most opportune time. Even though filmed with a socially distanced crew on a stage to an empty audience, the result was magical. It captured the magic of a live performance with the nuances of cinematic intimacy. But rehearsing in masks six feet from castmates and no applause to keep you going must have been difficult.
It was tough – what works on stage does not translate to film, but we had to ride that fine line. I was lucky in that I have filmed many musical numbers for film and TV, but Jerry’s songs are so bombastic, it was tough to remember not to play to the balcony.
Lesli was given the showstoppers “Hello, Dolly” and “I Am What I Am,” both of which have been performed by many of the theatre’s legends. What did she do when she got her song assignments? What was that process?
First, pooping. Then realizing I have to just do it. I purposely didn’t listen to other versions; it would freak me out. I never do anyways – it’s a recipe for disaster and endless comparison. “I Am What I Am” was the one that scared me. I wanted to do it justice, it is so important to so many. In the end, it was just realizing that there was no wrong way to sing it. All of Jerry’s songs are like that. They are personal.
Her performance was nothing short of stunning and powerful. “I Am What I Am” took on a whole new life. Now they can add another legend singing those songs.
For every one of Lesli’s curtain calls, she has a volunteered performance for a benefit to our community. She has been (literally) a vocal ally for our cause. The LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York, Broadway Sings for Pride, the Ali Forney Center for LGBTQ youth, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and more – she is there ready to raise the key and some money.
My mother always says I was “raised by gays.” I started doing professional theater at ten, and my mom would have no issue leaving me alone because she knew the gay men in the show were taking care of me. It has always been a non-issue in my family. I am so lucky that as a kid I never had any judgment or opinions forced on me.
I do not pretend to know what it was like to live through (the last administration) the way the LGBTQ community has, but I can say that as an ally and someone who is often in disbelief at the way people are treated in this country, I have to believe that the only way out is through. And I think we are coming through a terrible time. It is still icky, it will always be abhorrent to me that there is so much hate in this country, but I do know that every day we are chipping away at that hate. I still cannot quite understand why.
She has been on both sides of Pride, as our fierce diva ally and as our honorary gay bestie. How can we build stronger bridges with our ally community?
I think listening to people instead of rushing to get on a platform is important. Just effing LISTEN. That way, when you want to help, it is coming from a real place of HOW can I help, vs. just wanting to look like you’re helping on social media. LOL.
Her motto, Rule Your Kingdom, rings true for anyone, especially that closeted kid in a small town.
You know who you are. No one can decide that for you. Stay strong in that. Put up those castle walls. But be benevolent. Anyone making you feel “less than” is so beneath you. Poor them. Do not even stoop to their level. Stooping is hideous and wrinkles your fab outfits. Trust … their day will come. Keep your head up or the crown will slip, honey.
And what has she learned most from the LGBTQ community?
Resilience, perseverance, courage, unconditional love.
Lesli can currently be seen on Netflix’ The Crew.
Find everything Lesli at leslimargherita.com
Last modified: April 8, 2021