Final Bow: Lesli Margherita of Dames at Sea Reveals the Backstage Secrets at the Helen Hayes Theatre
Eight times a week, the biggest diva on Broadway twirls around the stage of the Helen Hayes Theatre in a glow-in-the-dark dress. That would be Mona Kent, the Dorothy Brock-esque antagonist in Dames at Sea. Or is it the actress who plays her, Lesli Margherita?
A small-scale sendup of classic backstage movie musicals like 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933, Dames at Sea has been performed by nearly every summer-stock theater in America since its 1966 off-off Broadway debut. This season, it finally made it to Broadway for a short-lived run that will end on January 3, 2016.
This is only her sophomore Broadway outing (she previously appeared in Matilda as the negligent Mrs. Wormwood), but Olivier Award winner Margherita has already established herself as one of the funniest ladies of the stage. Even though she's taking her final bow with Dames at Sea, we're certain to see much more of her. In the following interview she reflects on her time in Dames, an experience marked by strange gifts, giant ladders, and lots of laughs.
1. What is your favorite line that you get to say/sing?
My favorite line is, "Wheeeeee," right before I slide down a mountain.
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
I start the show with a big solo dance number, so I'm the first one to see the audience. There's a glare from these giant golden dollar signs, so the first thing I see when I look out is a bunch of people in the front row covering their eyes, so it looks like they hate my performance. I start the show thinking that people are repulsed by the vision of me.
3. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
Someone handed me five ears of corn in a plastic bag.
4. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
Rita Moreno came and I was just speechless when I met her. Then she wrote me a handwritten note and sent it to the theater. I'm going to frame it, because I love her.
5. What's your favorite dance move or sequence in the show?
John Bolton and I do this number called "The Beguine." I get to do these faux flamenco moves. I love it because when I did Zorro on the West End, I actually had to go to Flamenco camp. Being able to make fun of it now is a blast.
6. There's a hilarious scene when your character, Mona Kent, walks across the stage with a huge ladder to correct her name on the marquee. Who came up with that moment?
That's actually in the script. The director, Randy Skinner, wanted it to be a giant red ladder. In rehearsals the ladder was small, but I wanted the big guns. We tried a bunch of stuff in previews, like the ladder being too heavy for Mona, but I ended up doing it Miss Piggy style and stomping across the stage like a woman on a mission.
7. You carry it effortlessly. How much do you bench?
Only as much as the ladder I have to carry in any show. I won't do any more work than I have to.
8. Is there an audience reaction that you'll cherish the most?
One night John Bolton and I could not get through "The Beguine" because there was a kid in the front row that got a drink from the bar at intermission. It was full of ice and he was just shaking it and shaking it. All through our number, we would hear it; it sounded like a garbage can full of ice. That was the funniest thing to me. I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes.
9. What secrets of the Helen Hayes Theatre did you uncover during this run?
Backstage at the Helen Hayes is this bizarre haunted maze of horrors. It's so old. You take three hallways to get to the laundry room, which is right under the street. When people walk over the grates in the street, it makes this horrific noise, like in a haunted house. Also, the walls to the dressing rooms don't go up to the ceiling, so you know everything everybody is doing. I really don't appreciate hearing the boys down the hallway farting it up before the show, but that's Broadway.
10. If you could perform a musical on a battleship, as they do in Dames at Sea, what would it be?
Instead of a battleship, I would actually like to perform an immersive production of Titanic the Musical on an Alaskan Cruise.