Leslie Stevens talks fun, flirting, and the challenge of being Lola

Leslie Stevens is having some devilish fun playing Lola in San Diego Musical Theatre’s current production of DAMN YANKEES! As Lola, Leslie gets to dance, sing, and flirt in this musical about America’s favorite pastime. When baseball fan Joe Boyd sells his soul to the devil in order to play baseball and take his favorite team to the championships, it’s up to Lola to keep him tempted so he doesn’t try to break his deal.

A winner of 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Choreography this show needs someone who can sing, dance, and tantalize in the role of Lola. Originally, this part was played by legendary song and dance woman played by Gwen Verdon. It turns out that Leslie is not only a fan of the musical, but also of Gwen and this role! I had a chance to chat with her about playing this part and the fun she finds in the challenge of this role.

Although this is a classic musical, it doesn’t always get frequent revivals – how familiar were you with this show when taking on the role of Lola?

I have known DAMN YANKEES for many years. I followed the work of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon from very early in my interest in theatre as a teenager. I aspired to do roles that Gwen Verdon originated and consider her a strong influence on me – shaping what I thought was possible. One of my great memories is meeting Gwen at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (when she came to work with the company) and later having lunch with her in NYC

The combination of dancer and comedienne has always been delightful to me; and LOLA is a fabulous opportunity to play with both.

What are some of the fun and some of the challenges of working on a character that is beauty and brains, “the sultry handmaiden of the devil,” as critic Bosley Crowther wrote of Gwen Verdon in the 1958 movie, but also uses them for devious reasons which may include dancing in a locker room?

Biggest challenge: learning to coordinate when to breathe!

Other challenges: putting on a trench coat, hat, twirling two suitcases, unfolding and folding a map while singing a wordy story song in a spotlight (which makes it hard to see the floor)

Most fun challenge: Getting my clothes off on the right beat of music in the Locker Room – AND getting my skirt to land on Joe Hardy’s head while singing!!

Heart and Soul Challenge: continuing to explore what it feels like to have my LOLA beliefs about Men and Love be shattered by a “good, loyal, dumb, ordinary man”

Do you have any pre or post show habits to keep things fun?

I like to decorate my dressing room from the point of view of the character I play or the style of the world of the show. It’s an invitation to the child part of my brain to play in the play and not to treat it all like work. I think it’s fun for cast and crew too. We’re all sharing in creating something human and musical – and if we are in the groove – Magical.

I need to warm-up or it isn’t fun for me. I do – yoga, ballet barre, push-ups, wacky-sounding vocal exercises of all kinds. I don’t do exactly the same stuff for every show. I listen to my body and “do what LOLA tells me to do!”

After all of this work, Leslie’s guilty pleasures to unwind sound like a fun way to end a day!

“Prosecco, travel, massage, and late night viewing of ballet competitions!”

If you want to follow Leslie’s adventures on social media you can find her on:

Twitter handle: @sirenrouge

Instagram Handle: leslie.stevens.927

Catch her as Lola in DAMN YANKEES at San Diego Musical Theatre through June 18th at the Spreckles Theatre. For tickets, and show time information go to www.sdmt.org

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