Let Her Entertain You: Leslie Uggams on Surviving Childhood Stardom and Playing Legendary Role of Mama Rose

By Karu F. Daniels
12 Jul 2014

Leslie Uggams
Leslie Uggams
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Tony and Emmy Award winner Leslie Uggams continues her streak of classic leading lady roles by taking on Mama Rose in a groundbreaking multiracial production of Gypsy at Connecticut Repertory Theatre.

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Leslie Uggams is still going strong... and still making great strides.

After playing Kizzy Kinte Reynolds in the landmark television miniseries and recently bringing Lena Horne's life story to the stage, the Tony and Emmy Award winner is continuing to make history with her newest role.

Uggams is currently taking on musical theatre's most infamous matriarch, Mama Rose, in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre's production of Gypsy, which kicked off a 10-day run July 10 in The Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre located on the campus of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT.

As the "ultimate stage mother" in Arthur Laurents' classic musical, she is breaking ground as the first African American to take on the iconic role in an Equity production — rounded out with a multiracial cast.

"I must say it's an incredible musical, and I think it's one of Arthur's best books of a musical," Uggams told Playbill.com during a break in tech rehearsals for the show.

With The Bird Cage, West Side Story and Gypsy already to his credit, Laurents — who died in 2011 — wrote the book for the 1967 musical Hallelujah, Baby!, in which Uggams made her Broadway debut. The show, featuring music by Jule Styne, garnered the Best Musical Tony Award and netted Uggams the trophy for Best Actress.

For Gyspy — officially titled Gypsy: A Musical Fable — the playwright collaborated with Styne and Stephen Soundheim in creating the enduring, tear-jerking backstage story based on the memoirs of the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee about her meddling "momager" Rose, who had vaudevillian visions of making her daughters rich and famous — sometimes by any means necessary.



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