Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka
Leanne Borghesi is an established personality on the Cabaret and Musical Theatre scene. Her fans know that she has some of the strongest vocal chops in town. She has a reputation for totally stopping the show in such major musical fundraising events as Help Is On The Way, and when on stage at the Castro Theatre or the Rrazz Room in her guise as the outrageous faux drag, “Anita Cocktail”, she is spectacularly over-the-top. Last year Leanne was the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award winner for Dames at Sea at New Conservatory Theatre Center. This year, Leanne took the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for her solo Cabaret show, Divalicious, which also played at New York City’s Metropolitan Room. She also secured a whole new fan base in the East Bay as word got around about her stunning performance in the title role of The Drowsy Chaperone at Diablo Theatre Company. Since then she has collaborated with singers Jessica Coker and Soila Hughes and several extremely gifted young composers to create “B.O.O.B.S!”, a hugely funny musical cabaret that has packed the popular Rrazz Room and will be presented there again in early December. She will close out the year in another Broadway musical, The Secret Garden, at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto. Right now and through Sunday, October 23rd, Leanne is appearing in 42nd Street Moon’s production of Cole Porter’s oddly successful musical of 1933, Nymph Errant. It’s a rare opportunity, both for Cole Porter and Leanne Borghesi. One of the four characters she portrays, Haidee Robinson, sings the very wild song of the harem, “Solomon” – a number that immortalized the show’s original performer, Elisabeth Welch. This past summer, Leanne was selected to participate in two other very rare and challenging performance opportunities – the International Cabaret Conference at Yale University and the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center’s Cabaret and Performance Conference 2011 in Waterford, Connecticut. She was surrounded and coached by major stars in the Cabaret and Broadway world. They all agree she’s got what it takes. They also want her back in New York. I am very proud to be Leanne’s resident vocal coach. For over thirteen years it’s been my privilege to keep the Borghesi pipes in working order. At the moment, they’re tuned-up for Cole Porter’s Nymph Errant.
ADD: 2011 Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award winner for solo Cabaret show: “DIVALICIOUS” also played at The Metropolitan Room in NYC Aug 2011.
Sean: What a madcap romp this is!
Leanne: It’s a pretty wild story. And it covers the whole globe.
Sean: It takes place in 1933, which is one of my favorite years. I love all that push for the liberation of women’s sexuality. Yet here is a story which demands that the leading character retain her virginity while she is in a mode of carefree abandon as she runs off with a series of men who have more to offer than the previous guy – but none of her affairs get off the ground sexually.
Leanne: Never! And that’s what’s fun. The story begins at a finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland with five girls in a dorm room, all from different parts of the world. The heroine, Evangeline, is on her way back to Oxford. I play “Bertha” from Germany and three other characters.
Sean: Four roles! You’re rather distinguishable on stage, how will you make each one different?
Leanne: Each character will have a different accent and costume changes. It’s nothing gigantic.
Sean: That’s a built-in gimmick for the production, but we’ll all be amazed by you anyway. Back to the five girls in the dorm. In a 1933 movie, guaranteed that would have been a great lingerie scene.
Leanne: No lingerie, but in the first scene the heroine’s Aunt Ermyntrude is having a lively conversation with Reverend Pither and this very staunch woman, Edith Sanford, about a single woman being unable to travel the world by herself.
Sean: Because she risks losing her virtue.
Leanne: Correct! But Reverend Pither argues that it’s possible for a woman, like Evangeline, to not give into men’s sexual advances and says, “I’ll bring proof back!” On her way back to Oxford, Evangeline gets sidetracked by all these different men who take her throughout the whole world. At each destination she discovers one of her classmates from school. She meets my character, Bertha, at the Acropolis. Bertha has become a cook for a professor who needs help with his diet. She says, “When I come to Athens I start cooking for him, but now he’s dead. Now I’m stuck in Athens and looking for something to do. Mr. Popov makes me his secretary. He is so nice. He treats me just like a mistress.” All the girls get hooked-up with older men, but it never seems to be about love.
Sean: In other words, the show is a big frolic. One of your characters gets to sing “Solomon”, a song that became something of a hit.
Leanne: That’s “Haidee Robinson”. She meets up with Evangeline in the second act, in a harem. She says, “I was born in San Francisco. My dad is an elevator man at the St. Francis. I had an idea I’d like to see the world. First, I met one gentleman who took me to New York where I sang in some clubs. Then another gentleman took me to Paris where I sang in a theater, then an Austrian took me to Venice and now I’m a princess. Life certainly is funny.” Haidee hears a Turkish woman chanting and says, “Singing? Good Lord! That girl has sure been mis-informed.” She goes up to her and says, “Listen, sister, you can’t go on like that. You’ll just depress yourself! That music is strange, but it’s got a beat.” Then I sing this song about Solomon having a thousand wives. Basically, he couldn’t keep his wives happy, so they all got a gigolo and Solomon had no place to go. She sings,
“Sol began to miss those baby dolls of his, and got his favourite eunich Rastus Brown. Now when he heard the lowdown on those moles of his, he said, “Go out and search the whole darn town till you’ve found your massa a thousand knives. I’m tired of doing the treatin’ for a thousand cheatin’ wives. Solomon is gonna cut the whole crop down.”
Sean: “Rastus Brown”? Solomon’s favorite eunuch?
Leanne: There was a dancer called “King Rastus Brown” from Kentucky… Oh! Oops.
[Click here to sample original cast member Elizabeth Welch sing: "SOLOMON"]
Sean: I’m sure, if we look hard enough, we’ll find Cole Porter packing a bunch of double-meanings into those lyrics. So, you’ve been very busy prior to Nymph Errant. Tell me about your summer vacation.
Leanne: I went to two back-to-back intensive cabaret and performance programs. The first was the International Cabaret Conference at Yale University. Then I was at the Eugene O’Neill Cabaret Conference. The Yale program was headed by Erv Raibel, the gentleman who began Don’t Tell Mama’s, The Duplex, and Eighty Eights in New York. There were 28 singers from all over the world. We had master teachers who would then perform in a Cabaret series as well. We’d be in class with them during the day, then attend their performance in the evening. For the final evening, we performed for them – the songs we had worked on in our classes during the week. Our teachers included Amanda McBroom, Tovah Feldshuh, Sally Mayes, Sharon McKnight, Laurel Massé from Manhattan Transfer, and we were blest to have Julie Wilson who is now 87. The program is done through the Dramatic Arts school at Yale and this was the 9th year. The space holds about 200 and the community is invited to attend. Every night we had a full house. Our musical directors included Alex Rybeck from New York who works with Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway; and Paul Trueblood, Tex Arnold, and Beth Falcone.
LEANNE BORGHESI and JULIE WILSON
Sean: You are already a very successful cabaret singer here in San Francisco. What did you get out of this experience that will make a difference?
Leanne: I learned that I am enough. As a cabaret performer – to be able to simply be myself, to work something out on stage, and come away with a better understanding of what Cabaret is.
Sean: What is Cabaret? What was the message there?
Leanne: The messages were different at both places. But the unified understanding was – an intimate act in front of a group of people. Telling whatever story you want to tell, using the lyrics as the base to tell your story. I realized that I get seduced by Music. I get seduced by how it feels. I turned that around to look at what the lyrics are saying and then be able to take a song out of context – for example, from a show that it’s from – and make it stand as its own entity. I can take a song – because I like what it says – and then be able to arrange it any way I choose. I went there wanting to know who I am. With both programs, I feel I’ve come back with a better understanding of who I am, what it is I want to tell, and why I choose this form of work.
Sean: Would you have done as well at the Eugene O’Neill Cabaret Conference had you not gone to the one at Yale just before that?
Leanne: I feel that Yale stripped me down. It was much more of an emotional experience for me. After fourteen days, it built me back up. Then traveling on to the Eugene O’Neill intensive, I was able to take my work even farther. We were in Waterford, Connecticut, at the Eugene O’Neill Center – which is a beautiful setting. The Eugene O’Neill was the first one I applied for, even before I knew about the one at Yale. I sent them a CD from my show “Divalicious”, clips from YouTube, and my full packet of publicity of shows I’ve done here at the Rrazz Room.
Leanne Borghesi with Lillias White and Penny Fuller
Leanne: Then I got a call from the artistic director, Michael Bush, saying that my talents were very unique for the Eugene O’Neill and that I was in high consideration for the program. When I finally got the call of acceptance, I realized I was one of only seven people that were accepted. Lillias White was there, our two mentor/teachers were Penny Fuller from Broadway and writer and director Barry Kleinbort. For the seven of us – four women and three men – we had four musical directors at all times to play and arrange music. I was the only person from the west coast.
Sean: What does that tell you?
Leanne: The way they stated it was, “She came all the way here to be with us.” What I found out was – artistically, at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center – what I’ve been doing here with my cabaret and my work as “Anita Cocktail” and my trio “B.O.O.B.s” – that what I brought to their conference was a different energy of experimentation which was very welcomed and that my freedom of expression was inspiring to other people. They put us to work the very first day performing in front of their audience, about 200 people.
Sean: What did you sing?
Leanne: “Mambo Italiano”. During the rehearsal, the tempo slowed down and it became a very sexual piece. I had never looked at it that way before. It became my signature number from that night on. I performed it three more times throughout the conference. But on that night, I coined the performer I was. The entire conference as well as the audience got to know me. With the work I did on my various pieces – like, “Don’t Rain On My Parade” – I got to show a complete 360 of myself. I was bringing my own experiences to what the lyrics meant for me.
Sean: In other words, not as a scene from a musical.
Leanne: Right. Five days later, at the third performance, I did three pieces that were linked with patter. I opened the show with “It’s Today” (Mame), and then followed that with “Just One of Those Things” and “I Wish You Love” and then closed the set with “Blues In The Night”.
Sean: Where is the audience coming from?
Leanne: The audience has been built from Waterford, Connecticut, as well as people who live in the community and support the O’Neill, the Board members, etc. One of our guest artists, Amanda McBroom, who was also one of our teachers at the Yale conference, performed with her accompanist, Joel Silberman, who was also the musical artistic director for the program. His show was about people in his life he had accompanied – his story was that of being on the other side of the piano. He also brought in André DeShields and Liliane Montevecchi. I was surrounded with professionals and their craft.
Leanne Borghesi with Liliane Montevecchi and André DeShields
Sean: What did you come away with from the O’Neill program that was different from Yale?
Leanne: For me, the Eugene O’Neill was about validation – that I have the ability to do with my life what my mentors have done with theirs. I come away with the confidence of the professionals at the conference – that I can take what I am doing now to a more professional level, maintain my collaborations with people in New York, and keep my name out there as a cabaret performer. Once I gain Equity status I can audition for professional shows and still keep fostering my career as a cabaret artist.
Sean: Your solo in Nymph Errant is a fabulous piece called “Solomon”. Compared to other standard-variety characters and musical numbers, “Solomon” invites the delivery of an established Personality, i.e., a stand-up Solo artist. In other words, with your long list of musical theatre credits throughout the Bay Area, you are a well-established cabaret artist here in The City. Thus, you are being “validated” as a performer who is sought-after in both arenas, rather than just one or the other.
Leanne: What’s funny about the song and the character I play, “Haidee”, is that she is basically a cabaret singer from San Francisco who winds up in a harem.
Sean: What’s coming up for you after Nymph Errant?
Leanne: From the end of November through New Year’s Eve I’ll be at TheatreWorks doing the role of “Mrs. Medlock” in The Secret Garden. That means I have performed non-stop since last January. Also, B.O.O.B.S! has a show coming up – “Rappin’ B.O.O.B.S! in Harmony”. That happens December 5th at the Rrazz Room. The following day we’ll be in Sacramento performing the show at Music Circus with my good friends, the Graham Sobelman Trio.
Jessica Coker, Leanne Borghesi & Soila Hughes
Sean: What’s on the horizon for 2012?
Leanne: I’m working on the business aspects of my show. After all, it is Show Business and, in essence, some of it is a push-and-pull game. We’re going to continue with B.O.O.B.S! and we’ve been looking into the rights for B.O.O.B.S!, The Musical – a small musical for three women and three men. There is also a possibility of doing it at the Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles.
Sean: Is the show completely original music?
Leanne: It’s a collaboration with contemporary composers from both New York and San Francisco and definitely not a standard show. On the solo front, I’ll be workshopping my new show – including going to New York to work with a director and others I’ve met. We’re also taking B.O.O.B.S! to New York. You know, Mr. Martinfield, this is a testament to you. As an artist – to be a performer and a singer – I’m very blest with the instrument that I have. I value what I do. Since my summer adventures at Yale and the Eugene O’Neill, I’ve really started to really understand and embrace the effects my voice has on an audience and the people with whom I work. My gifts are not like anyone else’s. I can honor them, confidently share them, and always keep working on them. You are my teacher and part of this process of being an artist is that we have to listen to our mentors – the people in this field who are the professionals. For me, it’s a life’s journey and something I’ll never stop. It’s not something I can learn in a classroom.
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Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.