Leslie Uggams
(© Tristan Fuge)
Leslie Uggams
(© Tristan Fuge)
Some people might consider 13 an unlucky number, but Tony Award winner Leslie Uggams isn't one of them. On Sunday, November 13, she will guest star on CBS' hit drama, The Good Wife, while on the same date, she will perform her critically acclaimed show Uptown/Downtown at Del Webb's Sun City in Palm Desert, California. TheaterMania recently spoke to Uggams about these projects.

THEATERMANIA: Tell me about the character you're playing on The Good Wife.
LESLIE UGGAMS: I play the mother of two sons -- one is this Wall Street guy and one is on death row, about to be executed. She has not seen the jailed son for 10 years, and she finally gets the opportunity to see him. What I loved about this character is she is this very dignified woman, who did everything for her two sons. She made sure they went to good schools and never went without, and so she wonders where this jailed son came from. It's fascinating.

TM: Most of your scenes are with Julianna Margulies, who plays Alicia. Did you two get along?
LU: Absolutely. She is the sweetest person in world. And she's got real chops, so it's great to work with someone like that. She talked a lot about her son, and I talked a lot about my grandson, so we bonded. But I have to say, everybody on the set loves her; she really set the tone for a happy set.

TM: Did you enjoy being back on a television series?
LU: I had a good time -- and the producers were so wonderful and people seemed honored to have me on the set. But it's lots of hurry up and wait. My first day, I got there at 2:30pm and left about 3am -- all to do one line in a courtroom. But I take a lot of toys with me for when I'm sitting in my trailer -- I had my iPad and my music -- and I always enjoy chatting with the makeup and hair people.

TM: You've been doing Uptown/Downtown for a couple of years now. Are you still enjoying it?
LU: Yes. But what's better is that people everywhere really love it and get into it. It's about all the different types of music I grew up with all my life. People see and hear things they were not aware of, like how I grew up at the Apollo. And I know people are sometimes amazed I can still sing. Some people think I'm out of the business, or that I'm 80. Actually, I'm in the same age group as Diana Ross, it's just that I started so young.

TM: Are young people coming to your shows?
LU: Yes. Thank God for YouTube, it's the best thing that happened to a lot of us, so younger people can see things we've done in the past. There's lots of stuff from the Tony Awards, some clips from my days with Mitch Miller; someone even found one when I was 10 years old and on That Show of Shows where I sang with the Billy Williams Quartet. Talk about long days, I remember sitting in the room while Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks were coming up with stuff for that show. TV back then was really fascinating.

Robert Torti, Kevyn Morrow, Leslie Uggams, Jordan Barbour
and Cleavant Derricks in Stormy Weather
(© Kevin Berne)
Robert Torti, Kevyn Morrow, Leslie Uggams, Jordan Barbour
and Cleavant Derricks in Stormy Weather
(© Kevin Berne)
TM: You have two versions of Uptown/Downtown, one of which runs two hours with intermissions. Why did you expand it?
LU: A lot of people said when I did the one-hour version that I didn't talk about this or that, like being on Mitch Miller or my work on Roots, and people love to hear talk about what goes on behind the scenes. Plus I get to do more songs that I love.

TM: You've been involved for many years with the musical Stormy Weather, in which you play the "older" Lena Horne. What's going on with the show?
LU: I believe they're planning on another reading, but they want a star to play the younger Lena, perhaps someone like Alicia Keys. Apparently, it's not enough to just tell Lena's story. The sad thing is many people don't realize what Lena did, not just as an artist, but as part of the civil rights movement. People like Lena Horne opened doors that were locked, and then made it possible to have the door open when people like me came along.