Jun 10, 2014
07:11 AMArts & Entertainment
Leslie Uggams Can’t Wait to Play Rose in ‘Gypsy’ in Connecticut
In mid-July, the Connecticut Repertory Theatre stage at the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs will be graced by legendary actress Leslie Uggams for the first time when she stars in the award-winning musical “Gypsy,” which runs from July 10 to 20.
Not only will this be the Tony and Emmy Award winner’s debut, but it will also be her first time in the revered role of Rose, show business’s ultimate stage mother, though the role and the musical has been circling the actress for a long time.
Years ago, when Bernadette Peters was starring as Rose on Broadway, Uggams says she was approached by Arthur Laurents, author of the book Gypsy, about taking over the role when the show went on the road.
“We did have a discussion about it,” says Uggams. Now she calls it “ironic” that she’s been cast in this role for the Connecticut Repertory Theatre.
But the ties between the actress and the musical run even deeper than that.
Uggams started acting when she was 6 years old, playing the niece of Ethel Waters on the 1950 television show "Beluah," so she can relate to being a child actress like Gypsy Rose Lee. While her own mother was not a stage mother, she says she witnessed many parents pushing their children into the lime light.
“I grew up in show business as a kid. I saw a lot of stage mothers in my life, [so] I always found that Rose is a fascinating character,” says Uggams. “I’ve been around those kinds of women. There were some horrible experiences I’ve seen kids go through and some great experiences.”
To top off the serendipity of this casting, Uggams attended school with Gypsy Rose Lee's son, Erik Lee Perminger. If that isn’t a sign, what is?
“It seems like someone out there is saying you have to do this,” says Uggams.
While this is her first time playing Rose, Uggams says it’s a songbook that she’s familiar with; music by Jule Styne (who won a Tony for his musical “Hallelujah, Baby!”, which starred Uggams) and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Her concert show, "Uptown Downtown," opens with music from “Gypsy.”
“It’s a classic show–one of the treasures,” she says of the musical.
Uggams is perhaps best known for her stirring portrayal of Kizzy in the landmark TV mini-series Alex Haley's "Roots," for which she received a Critics Choice Award and Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, but her career has been long and diverse. She says she keeps it interesting for herself by always trying different things including television, movies and plays.
"I always try to reinvent myself," says Uggams. "I don't believe in doing the same old thing that you were known for back in the day...I've been doing this for a long long time. I like to keep doing it. [I will] as long as I can do it well."
The actress is looking forward to debuting on the Connecticut Repertory stage.
“It has a great reputation,” she says. “I spoke to several people who have worked with them [and they say] it’s a great place to play. I’m really looking forward to it.”
See Leslie Uggams and the rest of the impressive cast in “Gypsy,” opening July 10 at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
For tickets and additional information call 860-486-2113 or visit www.crt.uconn.edu.
For more information on Uggams, visit her website at leslieuggams.com.