September 29, 2010

Leslie Uggams: A hit from age 6

"Some people paint, some sew...I meddle." (Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly!) Far from the quirky meddler she'll be playing with Symphony Silicon Valley's Broadway In Concert next weekend, Leslie Uggams is often hailed by her co-stars as the “nicest woman in show business.”  A Tony, Emmy & Critics Choice award winner, Golden Globe nominee, star of Broadway, television, film and the concert stage and a tireless advocate on behalf of the elderly and against discrimination, she is a one-woman tour de force.

Her signature smile, warm voice and kind demeanor endeared her to audiences early on. A television star at the age of 6 with a recurring role on the TV series Beulah, she was singing alongside Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington at the Apollo Theater by the age of 9 and making regular appearances on Your Show Of Shows [Video], The Milton Berle Show, and The Arthur Godfry Show.

At 15 she appeared on the quiz show Name That Tune, winning $12,500 to attend school at Julliard and attracting the attention of Columbia Records’ Mitch Miller.  So impressed was Miller that he signed her to a recording contract and made her a regular on Sing Along with Mitch [Video], making Uggams a household name and the first African-American performer to be regularly featured on a weekly national prime time television series.

She made her Broadway debut in Hallelujah, Baby!  “I was 23 and on Broadway in a show written by legends. I couldn’t believe it,” she says [Video of PBS interview].  But the young ingĂ©nue’s fateful first Broadway run was to be even more fortunate, winning her the 1968 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.  By 1970, she had her own musical variety television series, The Leslie Uggams Show on CBS.  Her role as Kizzy in the most watched dramatic show in TV history, Alex Haley’s Roots won her a loyal following as a dramatic actress.  She later starred in the miniseries Backstairs at the White House and in numerous specials, cabaret shows and Broadway turns.

She recently played opposite James Earl Jones in On Golden Pond, co-starred in the Broadway hit Thoroughly Modern Millie and starred as Lena Horne in the pre-Broadway run of Stormy Weather. This spring her one-woman cabaret show Uptown, Downtown--the story of her career--won rave reviews in New York.

Next week she’ll be making her San Jose debut in Symphony Silicon Valley’s Broadway In Concert series as the title character in Hello Dolly!—a role she’s reprising from her acclaimed run at Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars.  Join this Broadway legend in one of the most bouncy, feel-good fun musicals of the Broadway Stage next weekend.

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