Local Superstar Diva opens “A Very Merry Disco Christmas” at The Castro Theatre
By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel
Leanne Borghesi and Anita Cocktail are one and the same – depending on which one hits the doorbell first. The other day the three of us met for coffee at CAFÉ FLORE . Bill Wilson, photographer for the SAN FRANCISCO SENTINEL, snapped away and served as our captive audience. The word is out-out-out –zaftig “Faux Drag Queen” Anita Cocktail was a runaway success at the recent annual AIDS holiday fundraiser, HELP IS ON THE WAY. On Saturday the 22nd she opens the new Marc Huestis production at the Castro Theatre, A VERY MERRY DISCO CHRISTMAS, featuring singer Randy Jones – original cowboy of The Village People. La Cocktail has infused, shaken, iced, and salt-rimmed a medley of “Can’t Stop the Christmas Music”. Later on, she’ll conspire as Femcee for the fiery “It Takes A Village People” Look-A-Like Contest. Some of us are wondering if her lithe and hairy-chested 4-legged boxer – Bella – will enter as the Leather Guy. At one of The Castro’s more festive screenings of THE WIZARD OF OZ, the tall and spotlight-friendly Bella garnered the Blue Ribbon for “Best Toto Look-A-Like”. In a neighborhood where everything is possible – the (in-heels Size 11, omigod!) six-foot-five faux drag queen Anita Cocktail is flying high and taking LEANNE BORGHESI along with her.
ANITA COCKTAIL – Femcees the Village People Look-A-Like Contest
Both superstars have taken singing lessons from me for a very long time. I was not at the Herbst Theatre to see either one of them perform the number we’d drilled into vocal security, “Surabaya-Santa”. But the following day, my cell phone was on constant vibration from friends who had. I wanted to hear it from Leanne on this side of the table at Café Flore.
SEÁN: Talk to me about the song, “Surabaya-Santa” [from Jason Robert Brown's SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD]. What did you learn while preparing it for HELP IS ON THE WAY at the Herbst Theater?
LEANNE: You know as an artist there’s that one moment. You work really hard for your five minutes or even your three minutes – and then you get out there to do it – and you just know that moment was perfect. That’s what it was. The song was not my first choice. It was my partner [sound designer Sharon Boggs] who suggested it. She had just done the show for RAY OF LIGHT. “What about ‘Surabaya-Santa’?” she says.
I could do that! In a frenzy, I called and got the OK. You and I worked through it for a month. It wasn’t easy. Then, with all that pre-work and the mental work, getting into the theater with the band and being so ready — it was just the perfect time.
SEÁN: How does Marc Huestis, the producer of A VERY MERRY DISCO CHRISTMAS, know you?
LEANNE: December 2007 is my debut month for Marc Huestis and HELP IS ON THE WAY. It parallels 2002 when both Leanne and Anita Cocktail debuted as cabaret performers in really great venues. Marc works with my partner on sound. He wanted me to be a part of his shows in some way, but had not asked me to host it. This year he says, “I think it’s your time – it’s DISCO CHRISTMAS! Would you like to do that?” Yes. So, I’m getting my name on the marquee of the Castro Theater.
SEÁN: Last year, Marc brought Ann Blyth to the stage of the Castro Theater for a screening of MILDRED PIERCE and you won “Mildred’s Fierce Pie-Eating Contest”. But had he ever heard you sing?
LEANNE: Marc came to my solo show in 2004 when I double-booked – Anita Cocktail opened for Leanne Borghesi at the Community Music Center. It was my first attempt at molding my two worlds together. Then he came again in 2005 when I did the “Love and Lust” cabaret benefit – Leanne opened for Anita Cocktail. We donated $1600 to the SAVE THE CHILDREN fund for the tsunami.
SEÁN: Tell me about your experience doing “Meredith” in BAT BOY. How did that happen?
LEANNE BORGHESI (in BAT BOY) – SEÁN MARTINFIELD and the emerging ANITA COCKTAIL.
Photo by Bill Wilson © 2007
LEANNE: I wanted to do something where I didn’t have to create My Self. So, I went to the audition and [speaking to our photographer, Bill Wilson] my teacher, Mr. Martinfield over here – for the past 11 years, my only voice teacher – helped me.
SEÁN: Long before this episode – I conducted a Master Class in “Broadway Belting” at A.C.T.’s training center. Leanne was part of that class. I still have her Personal Information form. She sang “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” from SHOWBOAT. It was well done – but, even then, I asked, “Why are you (emphasis on YOU) singing this?”
LEANNE: He’s the first one to say, “Work with what you have. You are where you are, but not where you want to be. Work with that to move forward.” And I’m responding – I want to do this and that, and be this and that. And he comes back with, “Well, where are you now? What is it that you do and what do you do well?” And we’ve built on that ever since. For 11 years! Seán Martinfield has been my only private teacher.
SEÁN: Omigod. That is a long time. And now it’s Christmas. Again! What are we working on now? Are you repeating “Surabaya-Santa” for Marc’s show?
LEANNE BORGHESI and SEÁN MARTINFIELD – Schmoozing Santa.
Photo by Bill Wilson © 2007
LEANNE: It’s a DISCO CHRISTMAS! So, a whole new bill of fare. Marc Huestis has given me full range to do what I want to do. So, it starts with “Disco Santa” – scantily-clad sexy boys, glitter, chaps … it’s a very gay, very-feeling show, Mr. Martinfield.
ANITA COCKTAIL [Leanne has vanished into the wings]: Then on comes Anita Cocktail! With her “Disco Medley”! WE’VE got great new lyrics and fabulous disco tracks – “At first I was afraid. I was petrified – thinkin’ how you’d only buy me a small size 5.” You know, Mr. Martinfield — CAMP! And how Anita Cocktail FEELS. As a Woman! In Drag! Fitting into THAT – !!! A Size FIVE – ?!? “Bad gifts, bad gifts! Talkin’ ’bout bad… ” And all those references to “snow”? HA! [Seán gives the emerging Anita the hairy eyeball.] They could all be about … about …
ANITA COCKTAIL: All those, those GOOD things. And not TOO dirty, Mr. Martinfield. Very Classy! [The lights suddenly go, like, really bright.] And getting drunker and DRUNKER throughout the number and … you can see my lighted wig ALREADY — can’t you, Mr. Martinfield?!!
SEÁN: How do you do that? I’m sitting here calmly, in a lovely sunbeam – on the same bench with Anita Cocktail – who’s turned into a One Woman Klieg Light! So, OK, whoever wants to answer, please stand up! Exactly how do you pack Huge Hair with that much voltage and not electrocute yourself?
ANITA COCKTAIL [stage center, loudly]: Mis-ter Mar-tin-FIELD!!! It is sooooo difficult to light that wig! “IIIIIIII’m dream–ing of a huuuuuge Afro!” You and I are going Internet shopping – right now! – for battery packs, LED. Otherwise, we are going down in flames! And, of course, my pasties. Just for Mr. Martinfield! And all my – ooh! – ac-cou-tre-ment. So, I’m trying to figure — Do I want to be a gigantic Xmas Tree? An enormous Elf? A colossal Disco Ball?
SEÁN: Or a Dietrich gorilla.
MARLENE DIETRICH and ANITA COCKTAIL – Venus vs Vixen
Photo by Bill Wilson © 2007
ANITA COCKTAIL: YES! A Dietrich gorilla! Mister Martinfield! [Leanne hands Anita the laptop.] And then We have a costume change. I become the Village People Construction Worker – with my tool belt. Anita has it packed it with her vodka and cocktail shaker and makes us a stiff drink. So, not like my last show at the Herbst. Anita is getting Leanne ready to bolt way over the top.
SEÁN: Leanne is also back in school. Does Anita ever slip you insider trade about the tests?
LEANNE: Let’s just say Anita is bullshitting her way through it. She thinks she’s in Acting School! But I’m making her earn that degree.
SEÁN: You know I answer questions about singing and auditions on ALLEXPERTS.COM .
Let’s go back to the musical BAT BOY and your performance as his mother, “Meredith”.
LEANNE: Bat Boy was a fabulous opportunity.
SEÁN: You did both San Francisco productions.
LEANNE: The first was in 2005 at the VICTORIA THEATRE. I was excited to play in such an awesome venue. The theatre has a marquee, it’s an old burlesque house, and the musical is just so crazy in itself. We put it together really quickly. Everything that happens to me falls in my lap. I just scoop it up and say, “What can I do with this?” BAT BOY was like that. I had auditioned for a “Shoo-Bop” girl in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (RAY OF LIGHT THEATRE) and got cast as the understudy for “Audrey”. I don’t look anything like her. How was I going to do that?
SEÁN: Because I was preparing you for it.
LEANNE: We started working on Audrey’s song, “Somewhere That’s Green”. Then suddenly they pull LITTLE SHOP, put BAT BOY in its place and – boom! – I’m cast in the mother role. It was a great success. The production was remounted again at San Francisco’s SCHOOL OF THE ARTS. I loved revisiting the role. That doesn’t happen a lot for most performers. I gained new perspectives and learned a different set of reactions.
SEÁN: I have to confess to you why I was not at HELP IS ON THE WAY and, specifically, to witness your rendition of “Surabaya-Santa”. However! I’ve heard some talk since then. Word on The Street is that you walked away with the show.
LEANNE: I’m listening.
SEÁN: I swear I had a previous commitment – get this – with a very dear friend who had also studied with my first vocal coach. Her granddaughter, Hannah Williams, has been working with me now for about three years.
LEANNE: Oh, wow! OK, I know that’s exciting for you.
SEÁN: Hannah has done her share of belting-out the “Star Spangled Banner”, but that night she’s at Mission Dolores Basilica doing a Broadway-type solo with the choir from SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL PREP. We worked on Stephen Flaherty’s “Once Upon A December” from ANASTASIA. I have to say – even though she’s my client – everyone noticed. The audience was applauding a rising star. I had to be there – just as I was there for you at your first gig.
LEANNE: I was self-sufficient, but you were in my heart.
SEÁN: You’re at The Herbst and I’m in Church – praying for you!
LEANNE BORGHESI and SEÁN MARTINFIELD – At Café Flore.
Photo by Bill Wilson © 2007
LEANNE: Let’s turn the table around. How is this for you as a teacher? To see your impact on the City’s community of artists?
SEÁN: As a native San Franciscan it effects me in a way that is very meaningful and complex. My first and last vocal coaches – Olive Richardes Palany and James Schwabacher – were both native to San Francisco. From them, I inherit a vocal tradition that is about the Standard Classic unplugged, microphone-free theatrical voice. That translates to a discipline that is about developing the physical and vocal strength to fill the House.
LEANNE: You mean, “Chops”. It’s electric.
SEÁN: Exactly. When you perform with chops like that – there is a whole other energy that pours out of you. It is so unlike the current and comfy nasal pop crap that is so super-overly-processed. So, there we are, in a building that is acoustically fabulous to begin with – listening to the future. The concert was beautiful, the students and their director delivered the goods to the parents. That’s their job. But, we could all distinguish the few individuals who might pursue the performing arts and build a career out of it.
LEANNE: It takes time to understand that.
SEÁN: The “dream come true” is in the performing experience and its aftermath – you must prove you can re-create THAT again. The passion must be in the practice. You must love what you are doing as you are doing it. You are my prime example. You work hard on your material and your presentation. I’ve pumped up your range; we’ve explored all the tricks of the trade. It’s what happens after the performance – the moment after, the day after. For most singers most of the time, it’s either “I want to do all of that again” or facing a simple truth that the lovely dream is, in fact, the worst nightmare.
LEANNE: As an artist, what I find so amazing – after that moment – is how people look at you so differently. You’ve done something so different, and in their eyes, to prove yourself. But it’s just what you do – and it’s the right moment – and they’ve seen it. I get people who come up to me and say, “Why aren’t you on Broadway? You need to be on Broadway!” Well, if that’s my goal – I will be. Your success happens where it happens. I would be perfectly happy in my world of San Francisco. If Broadway comes up, I won’t step on the opportunity. Success is where you make it.
SEÁN: That Broadway show needs to be designed around You. It’s not likely that you are going to step into “South Pacific”. For “Help Is On The Way” you rehearsed at Club Fugazi with pianist Bill Keck, the musical director of BEACH BLANKET BABYLON.
LEANNE: We did. Once again, everything comes full circle – it was about “Beach Blanket Babylon” denying me a job.
SEÁN: We worked your butt off through two major auditions for “Beach Blanket Babylon” and they turned you down both times.
LEANNE: It was five times, Mr. Martinfield.
SEÁN: Five times?!
LEANNE: The last time I was on a four-month-callback as the understudy for Val Diamond. So, I went in – sang all their stuff, put on all the hats, danced all around. I waited four months, went back in again whey they asked me to, and put everything else on hold. Then I get a voice mail message saying, “We have decided to not change anything, but please come to any open call.” And I said, “You know what? I don’t want to wait for someone to give me the job anymore. I’m over it.” So, that year I created “Anita Cocktail” – was crowned at the 7th Annual Faux Queen pageant – and just ran away with that. In 2002, I won the San Francisco Cabaret Award as Debut Performer. If I had not gotten so pissed-off with them I would not have created my own work. It’s not about them personally, just the experience. Five years later I’ve done it on my own.
SEÁN: What was it like to go back to Club Fugazi and rehearse?
LEANNE: Oh, I worked it!
SEÁN: Who was there?
LEANNE: The people who had auditioned me – the producer, Jo Schuman Silver and Kenny Mazlow the director. I just did what I do, focused on my task for that day, held my head up high, and walked on with the musical director. He was very excited to work with me. So, I’m finding my musicians.
SEÁN: Is that difficult or are they pounding on your door?
LEANNE: After this gig? Yeah!
SEÁN: How about David Galligan, the director for “Help Is On Way”?
LEANNE: He’s great. After I left your house on Saturday I went to the Plush Room and met him there. I believe he’s the one that has the contact to all the American Idol people and getting the people in the show from L.A. Older gay man, very sweet. I sang my song, did my thing, my ideas. He said, “I have some ideas and I’ve wanted to work on this song for a while.” OK! Please! He kept saying, “If you don’t like it, just tell me.” And I just said, “Anything to help me, just bring it on!” In a half-hour we worked the entire number to dragging on a chair, holding a riding crop, doing the whole Marlene Dietrich style – and doing the S&M-thing that you and I had talked about. We dissected the whole thing piece by piece and really made it into a production number – the reverse change of Mrs. Claus into the sexy red dress, taking off her German wig, hitting the high-notes, shaking my boobs and putting my foot through the chair.
SEÁN: And who was it that told you to expose your boobs?
LEANNE: You did!
SEÁN: Who told you about all that S&M stuff?
LEANNE: Mr. Martinfield! See, I have all these ideas and then you give me permission to take it that one big step further. So, because we had talked about all this stuff – that’s why I was able to go through it so quickly. David and I were just moving on the physicality of it.
SEÁN: So, with all this discussion in mind – and after 11 years of working with me – the inevitable question is, “How much more vocal training do you need?!”
LEANNE: Oh, god! I need so much more.
SEÁN: And for the young person who is asking, “Well, why do I need to go to a vocal coach?” – my response is always, “You have to know your instrument.” And working that instrument – your voice – the foundation of it is always about scales. Every time you come for a lesson we warm-up with scales.
LEANNE: That’s what works. It is not natural for the performer in me to want to do that. I just want to get right to the good stuff. But the scales are part of the process. It’s taken me 11 years to figure out what the hell I’m doing. It comes to people at different times. I need to keep seeing a vocal coach, especially someone I can trust. I find my voice is growing. It’s getting bigger and changing. I want to delve into that more. I want to hit those High Cs that we do with even more comfort and ease – because it’s taken me 11 years of paving that way to understand how to get there. Other people get it a lot quicker. But I’m a slow learner and I prefer it the way we’re doing it. Yes, it’s taken me 11 years to access a whole different range with your two-octave scales and then be able to do a piece like “Surabaya-Santa” with confidence and comfort. And all your therapy during the lesson works well, too! I don’t need to see a therapist – I just come to you. It’s a gift that you have been given.
SEÁN: Ah! Thank you! How about 2008? What’s happening after A VERY MERRY DISCO CHRISTMAS – ?
LEANNE: I’m getting married.
SEÁN: That’s right!
LEANNE: And you’re the one who will be marrying us!
SEÁN: That’s right! I’m tying the knot on Leanne Borghesi and Sharon Boggs. And, in between – Sharon is doing the sound for Marc’s show?
LEANNE: That’s right! Sharon has done all the shows for Marc Huestis. Yesterday we did the sound at the Fairmont Hotel – a major fundraiser for the Girls Club of Italy. Her company (Sound Productions) is mounting up the musical INSIGNIFICANT OTHERS for a year-long run at the Pier 39 Street Theater.
SEÁN: Excellent! I have an interview up on THE SENTINEL with the composer, Jay Kuo.
LEANNE: Sharon is running the show for “Disco Christmas” and is donating her time to Marc. He brings these great events to The Castro, such as the show with Debbie Reynolds, but the amount of money he actually makes is not a lot. I like the barter system in Art – maintaining artists in our community that do their work but also you giving your time once in a while to help them maintain their livelihood. Someday, maybe, I’ll get paid a zillion to do what I do. But it’s first about sharing your talents and helping each other through Art, especially in our Queer Community. We’ve got to keep that going – because it makes you feel good. So, if I can get my name on The Castro marquee for donating my time – ROCK ON!
SEÁN: Sounds good to me.
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Seán Martinfield 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”, which is being prepared for publication. 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.
Bill Wilson is a veteran freelance photographer whose work is published by San Francisco and Bay Area media. Bill embraced photography at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR). Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past three years. Email Bill Wilson at email@example.com.
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