ON THE RECORD: Leslie Uggams Goes Uptown Downtown, Nick Jonas Sings How to Succeed
By Steven Suskin
This week's column discusses the cast recording of Leslie Uggams' one-woman show Uptown Downtown, plus Nick Jonas singing five songs from the current revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Leslie Uggams: Uptown Downtown
Such was the case with Leslie Uggams' Uptown Downtown in February 2010. Uptown was the Apollo, where nine-year-old Uggams made her debut in 1950 as one of those uncanny child performers with an oversized voice. (Appearing on amateur night, she kept winning week after week until they finally signed her up and put her on the bill.) Downtown was Broadway, where she arrived in 1968 at the age of 24 to take a Tony in Hallelujah, Baby! If Uptown Downtown might have sounded like it was going to be one of those nostalgic, self-congratulatory wallows, Uggams made it clear off the bat — with her opening rendition of "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York" — that the only middle-aged performer she emulated was the dynamic Lena Horne of The Lady and Her Music.
The act went off like a firecracker, with unlimited powder available. I remember turning to my companion and saying that I had always liked and respected Uggams — I toured with her for a couple of months, once — and I knew she was good. But I didn't know she was this good. Her two-performance gig was immediately and understandably slotted into an April opening at the Cafe Carlyle, with Uptown Downtown — devised and directed by Michael Bush — further refined. By Thanksgiving, the act was converted into a full-stage musical at the Pasadena Playhouse.
And that only takes us through the first 10 tracks. Uggams is terrific, and her band swings. Recording values on what seems to be a make-it-yourself recording — produced by Grahame Pratt, husband to the star — are fine. (The album is widely available online.) The insert, alas, has three great photos but little information. One assumes that this studio recording reflects the Pasadena engagement and includes the Pasadena musicians, although that's just a guess. Don Rebic, who served as musical director in New York and Pasadena, is presumably doing the same here. He is credited as orchestrator of 10 of the tracks, in each case with his name misspelled. (Sometimes it seems like nobody cares about the poor orchestrator.) Rebic's work is very good, as are Luther Henderson's charts for the Apollo Theatre segment. Luther died in 2003, suggesting that Uggams first performed this 12-minute routine — including the Armstrong-Fitzgerald songs — back in the '80s or '90s.
Uggams appeared hereabouts in March in the City Center Encores! presentation of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Pipe Dream. The show very much benefited from her infusion of musicality and energy, in a role which has heretofore seemed problematic. But Leslie's Pipe Dream only hinted at the talent displayed in her one-woman show. I would certainly recommend this CD to anyone who likes this sort of thing. And should Leslie Uggams and Uptown Downtown turn up in your town, don't hesitate.
Nick Jonas: Songs from How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying [Broadway Records]
The enterprising folks at Broadway Records — the new label which just entered the fray with Frank Wildhorn's Bonnie & Clyde — put two and two together (or rather put Jonas together with tracks from Decca Broadway's Radcliffe album) to bring us "Nick Jonas: Songs from How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying." Five songs, that is: "How to Succeed," "Company Way," "Rosemary," "I Believe in You" and "Brotherhood of Man."
(Not included are Finch's other songs, the duet "Grand Old Ivy" and the trio "Been a Long Day.")
Of course, things don't always work out according to plan. It was not anticipated that How to Succeed, starring Nick Jonas, would close (May 20) less than two weeks after this mini-CD hit the market (May 8). But that's Broadway.
The orchestra tracks come from the original 2011 sessions, albeit in re-edited, remixed and remastered form. (In the interest of accuracy, I have gotten this information directly from the record producers.) Jonas recorded his vocals this past February; Rose Hemingway (Rosemary) and Rob Bartlett (Twimble) — who are on the first album — rerecorded their duets, live with Jonas.
Additionally, several ensemble members came in for the new recording of the title song. The big group numbers — "I Believe in You" and "Brotherhood of Man" — use material from the 2011 sessions, joined with new vocals by Jonas.
It is impossible to judge Jonas' performance on the basis of five tracks. Let us say that he sounds pretty good here, especially on "Rosemary" and "I Believe in You." If memory serves, he seems closer in style to Darryl Hickman (who replaced Bobby Morse in 1963) than to Broadway Finches Morse, Matthew Broderick or Radcliffe. But that's merely by way of observation. Nick Jonas fans — especially those who buy a theatre ticket to see their man in How to Succeed" — are reasonably likely to want to pick up this mini-CD of five songs.
(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations" (now available in paperback), "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)
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