📷 : Harry Livingstone Photography
From 2017, Leslie Garcia Bowman was in the Original West End Cast of Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre as Charles Lee/Ensemble and performed with the show at the 2018 Olivier Awards where they also picked up seven awards, before he left the musical at the end of last year. He had previously been Assistant Dance Captain in Thriller Live and returned to the show after his run in Hamilton as part of the closing cast and had most recently started rehearsals for West Side Story at Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester before all theatres had to close until further notice. We caught up with Leslie about his time in the Original West End Cast of Hamilton, returning to Thriller Live and what he was looking forward to for starting his run in West Side Story.
Can you say about playing Charles Lee/Ensemble in Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre?
Playing Lee/Ensemble was great because I got to do all of Andy Blankenbuehler’s incredible choreography as well as have a featured role that I could make my own. Everything about the show and the theatre was the experience of a lifetime.
How did it feel booking the role in the Original West End Cast?
I was so relieved when my agent called me with the offer. The audition process had lasted over three months, and it was gruelling both physically and mentally, so to find out that my hard work had paid off was very rewarding. There were tears!
The show won seven awards at the 2018 Olivier Awards, how was it attending the event and performing there?
The Olivier Awards was definitely a highlight of the job. We were the first cast to walk the red carpet which kind of set the rest of the evening up for us. We could feel the hype from the media and the fans in attendance which just built the excitement for us. To be opening one of the most prestigious award shows in the world was a great privilege and then watching our fellow cast members and creative team go up repeatedly to collect awards made us all very proud.
What’s the atmosphere like on Gala Nights knowing there are special guests in the audience such as Harry and Meghan?
There was a buzz in and around the building when we knew that we had special guests in. The energy from the cast was always there whether it was a Thursday matinee or a Saturday night, but on special nights like that it would go to another level. Also, being able to meet them after the show was always a plus!
After having a long run in the show, what do you miss most about being in the cast?
The cast really was a family. We had a real camaraderie with each other and a lot of jokes onstage and off, and that’s probably what I miss the most.
📷 : Craig Sugden
How was it being part of Thriller Live at Lyric Theatre?
Thriller was my first West End job so it will always be special to me, especially now that the show has closed. Being a part of Michael Jackson’s legacy meant a lot to me and still does. Performing his iconic songs and dances was a lot of fun, and our cast were (and still are) very close which made the time even better. Also, having the experience of doing a long-running show at a young age set me up well for Hamilton.
As Assistant Dance Captain with the show, what was this like?
My job was actually very easy, and this could be attributed to the cast who were all very clean dancers. I would have one show off stage at the end of the week (if everyone came to work!) to note the show, and I would give those notes to the cast the following week. I was also in charge of making sure the Young MJs were alright with everything show-wise and working with them was a joy.
You returned to the show at the end of last year, how was it rejoining the production?
It was fun and refreshing to do Thriller again, two and a half years after leaving. Some of my original castmates were still there and my best friend had become the Assistant Dance Captain since, so it was one big reunion! I’m also really glad that I got another chance to do the show before it closed.
Having performed in pantomimes, what do you enjoy about this type of show?
It’s been a long time since I did a panto! What I remember enjoying most was the freedom to mess around a bit because above all, I think panto is about having fun. Triple show days on the other hand…
How do you prepare for roles and do you have any stand out funny moments from the roles you’ve had that you can say about?
In my experience, I haven’t had much time to prepare for them – I had a ten-second quick change to prepare for Charles Lee! One moment that sticks out for me was during Ten Duel Commandments. The gunshot sound went early so, when it came to me getting shot by Laurens, there was an eternal silence which threw off the entire cast and band and nobody knew what to do! Definitely the most awkward onstage moment I’ve ever had. Cleve September eventually came in with a line and saved the day.
📷 : Murphy Made Photography
What was it like filming for High Strung: Free Dance?
I had a great time! They were filming in Bucharest, so they flew me out for four days. Three of those days I was on holiday with one shoot day in the middle. That was a very long day as all shoot days are, but hanging out with the other actors and dancers was cool and we passed the time quickly. I was very proud seeing the final product!
How did you get into dance and do you have a favourite style?
My older cousins took tap dance lessons and when I was four I decided that I wanted to dance too. I only did tap dance until I was about thirteen, when I started jazz and ballet etc. Tap was my first love and is still my favourite style.
What do you like to do away from acting and dance?
I’m very passionate about basketball, and I’m certain that if I was a foot taller I’d be in the NBA! I’m also an avid video gamer in my spare time.
Can you tell us about your training and what encouraged you to train in the UK?
I trained at Laine Theatre Arts from 2012 to 2015. I came to the UK to train because there isn’t a big enough industry in New Zealand or Australia to maintain a long theatre career. I was helped in this journey by my good friend and former teacher Anthony Cranwell, who scouted me in NZ and suggested going to Laine.
You had started rehearsals for West Side Story at the Royal Exchange in Manchester before theatres closed, what were you looking forward to for starting your role?
West Side Story is obviously one of the most iconic shows ever. I had already done a pop show and a hiphop/R&B/jazz show, so I was looking forward to doing a more legit show and expanding my knowledge. I’d also heard great things about the Royal Exchange Theatre, and I must applaud them for how they handled the situation and treated the cast in the aftermath of Covid-19. We were all gutted about the run being cancelled but fingers crossed there will be another opportunity for the production to go ahead.
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