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Law grad Michael James Leslie dons judicial robes in ‘Sweeney Todd’

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Daryl Lovell

For the first time in his 40-year acting career, Cornell Law School graduate Michael James Leslie, J.D. ’76, is playing a legal role.

Leslie grew up singing in church and on stage, but it wasn’t until his role as “Pooh-Bah” in the Cornell Savoyards’ 1975 production of “The Mikado” that he considered a career as an actor. Leslie passed the bar and practiced law for six months before landing a role in the first Broadway revival of “Hair.” His varied, decades-long career includes the Lion in “The Wiz” and the voice of the plant “Audrey II” in multiple productions of “Little Shop of Horrors.”

In August, Leslie joined the Tooting Arts Club’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” off-Broadway, playing the role of corrupt Judge Turpin, the main antagonist.

The acclaimed revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical launched in 2014 in a South London production set in an actual pie shop; for the New York production, the 130-seat Barrow Street Theatre has been transformed into a pie shop, with the audience immersed in the action and treated to meat or vegetable pies.

“Playing Judge Turpin presented several problems, not the least being playing the role as an Englishman, accent and all,” Leslie says. “I was nontraditionally cast by the creative staff who believed in me. It has given me a whole new lease on life and my career.”

The show was recently extended through February 2018.

- Joe Wilensky

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