Leslie Uggams: Uptown Downtown
One of the advantages of being selected to participate in Lincoln Center's annual American Songbook series — four weeks of concerts beginning in mid-January, the acts chosen from a range of musical fields — is the audience itself. Broadway singers can be sure of a smart and canny crowd, a mix of fans and mere admirers who are interested in what they are up to. An experienced performer with stage sense can use the opportunity to give us something a little different than what they usually do; not just their greatest hits, but a sense of where they are hoping to go next. The Songbook audience turns thumbs up or slightly down, but respectfully and encouragingly so.
Such was the case with Leslie Uggams' Uptown Downtown in February 2010. Uptown was the Apollo, where nine-year-old Uggams made her debut in 1950 as one of those uncanny child performers with an oversized voice. (Appearing on amateur night, she kept winning week after week until they finally signed her up and put her on the bill.) Downtown was Broadway, where she arrived in 1968 at the age of 24 to take a Tony in Hallelujah, Baby! If Uptown Downtown might have sounded like it was going to be one of those nostalgic, self-congratulatory wallows, Uggams made it clear off the bat — with her opening rendition of "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York" — that the only middle-aged performer she emulated was the dynamic Lena Horne of The Lady and Her Music.
The act went off like a firecracker, with unlimited powder available. I remember turning to my companion and saying that I had always liked and respected Uggams — I toured with her for a couple of months, once — and I knew she was good. But I didn't know she was this good. Her two-performance gig was immediately and understandably slotted into an April opening at the Cafe Carlyle, with Uptown Downtown — devised and directed by Michael Bush — further refined. By Thanksgiving, the act was converted into a full-stage musical at the Pasadena Playhouse.
|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Uggams appeared hereabouts in March in the City Center Encores! presentation of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Pipe Dream. The show very much benefited from her infusion of musicality and energy, in a role which has heretofore seemed problematic. But Leslie's Pipe Dream only hinted at the talent displayed in her one-woman show. I would certainly recommend this CD to anyone who likes this sort of thing. And should Leslie Uggams and Uptown Downtown turn up in your town, don't hesitate.
As you might have heard, Frank Loesser's How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying was revived on Broadway last spring starring Daniel Radcliffe. What do you do when Harry Potter jumps on his broomstick, or whatever, and flies back across the sea? The producers brought in Darren Criss (of "Glee") for three weeks, followed by teen heart-throb Nick Jonas (of The Jonas Brothers). With Jonas onstage every night at the Al Hirschfeld and all those Jonas fans on hand, how many folks are likely to go to the lobby concessionaire and ask for a copy of Radcliffe singing the songs?
The enterprising folks at Broadway Records — the new label which just entered the fray with Frank Wildhorn's Bonnie & Clyde — put two and two together (or rather put Jonas together with tracks from Decca Broadway's Radcliffe album) to bring us "Nick Jonas: Songs from How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying." Five songs, that is: "How to Succeed," "Company Way," "Rosemary," "I Believe in You" and "Brotherhood of Man."
(Not included are Finch's other songs, the duet "Grand Old Ivy" and the trio "Been a Long Day.")
Of course, things don't always work out according to plan. It was not anticipated that How to Succeed, starring Nick Jonas, would close (May 20) less than two weeks after this mini-CD hit the market (May 8). But that's Broadway.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
It is impossible to judge Jonas' performance on the basis of five tracks. Let us say that he sounds pretty good here, especially on "Rosemary" and "I Believe in You." If memory serves, he seems closer in style to Darryl Hickman (who replaced Bobby Morse in 1963) than to Broadway Finches Morse, Matthew Broderick or Radcliffe. But that's merely by way of observation. Nick Jonas fans — especially those who buy a theatre ticket to see their man in How to Succeed" — are reasonably likely to want to pick up this mini-CD of five songs.
(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations" (now available in paperback), "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)