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Leslie Uggams: Uptown Downtown

This utterly delightful autobiographical show at the Cafe Carlyle allows audiences to see a true star at the peak of her powers. logo
Leslie Uggams
The title of Leslie Uggams' absolutely delightful new show at the Cafe Carlyle, Uptown Downtown, is both literal and metaphorical. The still-glamorous star -- who doesn't look old enough to collect Social Security (or even be a member of AARP) -- is an "uptown girl" born in Washington Heights and who gained childhood fame at Harlem's Apollo Theater before conquering "downtown" (aka Broadway), where she won a Tony Award for the 1967 musical Hallelujah, Baby! Smartly, the show's musical selections happily sample from both parts of her life.

Working with the director Michael Bush, Uggams has fashioned what seems like a blueprint for an autobiographical show a la Elaine Stritch: At Liberty. Perhaps that's why her patter, while charmingly and enthusiastically delivered, may feel a bit too scripted. Still, there's something genuinely special about hearing Uggams reminisce about working with Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and Louis Armstrong or going to see her Aunt Eloise perform in a production of Porgy and Bess opposite Leontyne Price and Cab Calloway.

Still, the truest joys of the evening are in the music, and Uggams is in absolutely glorious voice, full of passion, power, and tenderness. She tackles the extraordinary "My Own Morning" (her big number from Hallelujah, Baby!) early in the show, oddly getting what might be her biggest showstopper out of the way.

Fear not, as Uggams knows she has plenty of strong ammunition to follow, including an incredibly soulful rendition of "Up on the Roof"; a jazzy "Hello, Young Lovers"; a spirited "I Got Plenty of Nothin'"; and, especially, a plaintive "If He Walked Into My Life," which is one of the finest treatments of the Jerry Herman standard you'll ever hear.

As a show biz veteran who knows how to leave an audience wanting more, Uggams concludes the show by providing a bit of a sneak peak of Stormy Weather, a new musical in which she plays Lena Horne that has had two out-of-town productions. Her breathtaking take on the title tune has the room erupting in applause, and an encore of Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine's "Love" -- which Horne performed in the film Ziegfeld Follies -- is nothing short of explosive.

So whether you live downtown, uptown, or in between, it's worth making the trip to the Cafe Carlyle to see a true star at the peak of her performing power.

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