Leslie Uggams at 54 Below

Leslie Uggams at 54 Below. Courtesy leslieuggams.com
Leslie Uggams at 54 Below. Courtesy leslieuggams.com

NEW YORK – Leslie Uggams at 54 Below

“Leslie Uggams,” you ask.? “Didn’t she used to be….?” “Wasn’t she on Ed Sullivan? Or was it Mitch Miller? Wasn’t she in….? Didn’t she do….. Didn’t she have?

In a word, YES. She did, she was, she had. Today, she is still doing, being, and having a ball. Having just reached 80 last spring (Dionne Warwick called to say “Welcome to the club”), she is vibrant and busy taking multiple bites out of the apple of life. Uggams is a walking compendium of race relations and American musical history all rolled into one. She has shared the stage and screen with an eclectic mix of performers, from Billy Dee Williams to The Beatles to Big Bird. In other words, she was a multi-hyphenate before anyone knew what the heck that was.

What she really, really is, down to her toes, is a storyteller. Her opening song, “Something’s Coming,” is a fresh, crackling arrangement in which Uggams plays out the possibilities coming down the pike with such clarity that it makes you sit up and pay attention. Maybe something is coming for you? She breaks our hearts with the simplicity and specificity of “My Own Morning” (From “Hallelujah Baby,” in which she starred in 1967).

I want a door that belongs to me,
I want a bed that belongs to me,
I wanna know when I climb into bed, I’ll wake up in my own morning – a morning that really belongs to me.

She puts herself on the hot seat with her story of singing at a Memorial Day Concert where everything that could go wrong did. She pairs up the Beatle’s version of “Yesterday” with the Jerome Kern “Yesterdays” – and it works.

Leslie Uggams on state at 54 Below, New York City. Photo by Richard Hillman

Leslie Uggams on state at 54 Below, New York City. Photo by Richard Hillman

It all works. Uggams performs old songs with a new view and a new lens. She sings of old loves with passion. She knows regret and wonder in one breath. She has love and reassurance by the bucketload. She is especially rich when she gets down and thumbs her nose at anyone who would dare to cross her path. Don’t even think about raining on this woman’s parade.

To be in her presence and listen to the joyful noise that she and the extraordinary trio (Don Rebic as music director on piano, George Farmer on bass, and Buddy Williams on drums) make is nothing short of pure magic that you can only hold in your hands. She has so much to give that she shares the spotlight with her daughter, Danielle Chambers, who has some serious pipes of her own. One hopes for a show with both of them someday.

Uggams was a gift when she started out. That she remains an iconic performer says something about not only her talent but her determination and drive. This is a woman who is not interested in anything short of a full flight. As she sings her second song from “Hallelujah Baby.”

Being good isn’t good enough
Being good won’t be good enough
When I fly, I must fly extra high
And I’ll need special wings so far to go

Uggams has those special wings. Over the decades, they have only gotten stronger. The result is that her voice is still rich, her spirit still high, and her vision still expanding with every moment.

Leslie Uggams is illuminating. She has one more show and I hope you treat yourself to the pleasure of her incredible company. WATCH a taste of it here HERE

Leslie Uggams at 54 Below through March 23. Tickets HERE.

54 Below

254 West 54th Street
New York NY

Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Lucie Jones at 54 BelowJeff Harnar sings Cole PorterBrian J. Nash at The Green Room 42Gabrielle Stravelli at Chelsea Table + StageTribute to Chita RiveraThere’s A Little Starch Left at Don’t Tell MamaThe Sweet Spot, and The Days of Wine and Roses.

Leslie Uggams at 54 Below


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