Leslie Uggams: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

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Leslie Uggams

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

54 Below, NYC, March 21, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Leslie Uggmas
Photo: Joseph Moran

It may be impossible for a cabaret show to be perfect, but Leslie Uggams’ program, Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue came damn close. Having begun her career at age six, she brought 74 years of theatrical experience and skill to the stage to create a confident aura that was mixed with her natural warmth and humor. The audience was enthralled from the first strains of her opening number, “Something’s Coming” (Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim), which she began in the audience. She used jagged jazz phrasing as she moved through the dark to the stage. Midway through the song, the tempo slowed just enough for her to open up her voice to its powerful full throttle, and the audience was both thrilled and reassured that age had not dimmed her musical instrument.

Her next number “Only in New York” (Jeanine Tesori/Dick Scanlan) cemented her appeal. She swung the song as she worked the full stage and connected with the audience, whom she clearly loved; it was the perfect celebration of the Big Apple and her passion for it. Following this was her trademark song “My Own Morning” (Betty Comden and Adolph Green/Jule Styne), which she introduced in 1967 when she won her Tony for Hallelujah, Baby. She has probably sung this tune hundreds of times, but that didn’t keep her from delivering the lyrics freshly and meaningfully as if for the first time. Then came “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (Bob Merrill/Styne); it had an emotional drive and perfect diction, and it earned her the first of several standing ovations during the evening.

Uggams displayed her great sense of humor as she shared her part in the fiasco that was the Capitol Fourth performance of “June Is Busting Out All Over” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II). The legendary fiasco actually made her a superstar in certain quarters. She recited the lyrics she had “invented” on the spot and sang a fine rendition of the actual lyrics. Following this was a dynamic arrangement of the same songwriters’ “Hello, Young Lovers” as a duet with her drummer Buddy Williams. Another wonderful musical arrangement followed an amusing tale of her meeting The Beatles was a blend of “Yesterday” (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) and “Yesterdays” (Jerome Kern/Otto Harbach) delivered in a purely torch delivery.

In complete contrast, “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) was completely joyous, and it included a delicious piano solo by music director Don Rebic who contributed greatly to the evening. George Farmer on bass was a fine contributor as well. Rebic also gave fine solo support to the singer on the powerful “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough,” also from Hallelujah, Baby, which had a very personal interpretation. Still drawing on the rich catalog of Broadway melodies, she delivered “Broadway” (Styne/Sondheim) from Gypsy and a brilliant “If He Walked into My Life Today” (Jerry Herman from Mame).

The final two numbers of the evening showed very different aspects of Uggams. The first was an electric performance of “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” (Jackie DeShannon/Jimmy Holiday & Randy Myers), made special when her daughter Danielle Nicole Chambers joined her on stage for some true fireworks. Then, for an encore, Uggams sang a passion-filled tribute to her idol Lena Horne with “Stormy Weather” (Arlen/Ted Koehler). It was a dynamic way to end a truly remarkable show.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."