Monday, April 12, 2010
We can't think of any better reason for exultation than Leslie Uggams' fabulous one woman show at the Cafe Carlyle. Musically charting this Tony-winning veteran's journey from being a 6-year-old sensation at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater to becoming the toast of television, Broadway, Vegas and beyond, From Uptown to Downtown is a thrilling ride.
To say that Miss Uggams looks absolutely splendid would be gross understatement: poured into a slinky, low cut, tomato red gown, the soon-to-be-67-year-old stunner's cut glass cheekbones, flawless skin and dazzling smile would have been enough to charm and disarm the audience, even if all she did was stand stock still. Fortunately, Miss Uggams sounds even better than she looks, belting out one number after another with breathtaking elasticity, suppleness and range, in a warm, rich, powerful voice which betrays absolutely no sign of age - except, perhaps, the increased wisdom and interpretive skills which come with experience.
Indeed, this may be Miss Uggams at her absolute artistic peak: at the time of her greatest commercial success in the 1960's and 1970's, Uggams' voice was just as strong and pretty as it is now, but with a certain lack of depth. We never really felt what she was singing. But, boy, does she make you feel it now: when she bites into "My Own Morning," the big ballad number from her 1967 Tony-winning turn in Hallelujah, Baby!, she turns a relatively undistinguished piece of material into a masterpiece of self-affirmation. And while Uggams has never been a true jazz singer, she can now swing with the best of them, giving thoroughly enjoyable performances of Ella Fitzgerald's classic "A-Tisket, a-Tasket" and a wild, percussion-driven arrangement of "Hello, Young Lovers" which would have given Marni Nixon cramps. Dramatic ballads are her true forte, however, and the well-thought-out program gave Uggams a chance to get more than a few in, while not bogging down the pacing. A devastating "If He Walked into My Life" from Mame made one long to have Uggams star in a revival, right this very minute; while "Stormy Weather," sacrilege though it may be, now belongs to Miss Uggams, with apologies to Lena Horne and Ethel Waters.
Throughout her act, Miss Uggams managed to be both completely polished and professional, while also warm and engaging. The highest compliment we can give Uggams and her excellent team is that, although clearly a lot of thought and planning went into the conception and execution of this show, it still feels fresh and spontaneous. We really can't say enough about this show, so we simply urge you all to go. Miss Uggams is at the Carlyle through this Saturday.