In his first two major roles on Broadway, Kingsley Leggs has developed a reputation as the villain you love to hate. He originated the role of the dastardly Mister in The Color Purple, and created the part of the gangster Curtis Jackson in Sister Act, a role he continues to play on tour.
"I feel that Curtis is a lot more than just a gun wielder," he says. "I think the bad side plays itself, so I try to find the humanity in him and address that. I try to remember that underneath everything, he's a complete person like everyone else. When I was playing Mister, I could feel the silent hatred from the audience. I could feel all the women hating me and cringing. But I could also feel them going, 'Hey, you know, maybe I could be the one to change that guy.' That's the tightrope you walk."
Sister Act, with a score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner and Douglas Carter Beane, and direction by Jerry Zaks, closely follows the plot of the very popular 1992 film on which it's based, while shifting the time and place to 1970s Philadelphia. Nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier (Ta'Rae Campbell) is hidden away at a convent after witnessing her boyfriend, Curtis, murder an associate. Her reluctance to be there is equaled by the reluctance of the Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik) to have her there, but… well, you know the rest.
The show, Leggs says, brings him unadulterated joy. "It's a fun show to do and it makes people feel good. It's very rewarding as an artist to look out at the end of the night and know that you have really touched people. To see them dancing and smiling and clapping gives meaning to what we do."
|Photo by Monica Simoes|
Leggs has been singing ever since he was a child, but it was while he was in high school that he discovered his career path, thanks to his teacher and mentor, Paul Mabury, who cast him in Carousel. "I knew at once that if I could make a living in theatre, this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," he says.
He followed Mabury to Benedictine College in Kansas, and after graduating in 1983 returned to his native St. Louis, where he soon became a member of The Black Rep, now the largest African-American theatre company in the nation. He went on to do countless regional productions and numerous tours, the highlight of which was playing Coalhouse Walker in the first national company of Ragtime. He also had a brief stint on Broadway, understudying the role of John in Miss Saigon.
"The ironic thing is, I've been in the business for almost 30 years and I've played just two really bad guys, but that's how people know me," he says. "It's too late for me to be concerned about being typecast because it's already happened, judging from the parts that I get called in for. It's probably time for me to step away from this kind of role for a minute and do something a little nicer, to remind myself and others that I am capable of doing other things. It would also be nice to relieve my spirit, because after you do these kinds of parts for a long time, they can get into your soul a little bit. So I hope the next thing I do is different. But I enjoy playing bad guys, and I'm never going to shy away from them."
(This feature first appeared in the subscription issue of Playbill magazine. Want to subscribe to home delivery? Visit PlaybillStore.com.)