Magazine article American Theatre

A JEWEL in Her Crown

Magazine article American Theatre

A JEWEL in Her Crown

Article excerpt

"Ruby and Elizabeth are nothing alike," declares Tony-winning actress Leslie Uggams, comparing her current role in the Broadway production of August Wilson's King Hedley II to her recently acclaimed turn in John Henry Redwood's The Old Settler. "Elizabeth in Old Settler was a quiet church-loving kind of woman who was very much alone. Ruby is a physical character." Given Uggams's schedule lately, she's well-trained for this event. 'Before Hedley, I played Maria Callas in Master Class. I had to learn opera and Italian-and I had to learn everything in three weeks. When I looked at this script and the number of lines, I said, 'Oh, my God!'"

It's hard to imagine Uggams afraid. She's been on and off Broadway, in film and television. Even with these credits, a certain awe overcame her during the first few rehearsals for King Hedley. "Working with August is a dream come true. He's one of America's treasures-a voice in the African-American community. The day I walked into rehearsal (I joined the company in Chicago), I kept pinching myself. It took me two or three days before I had the nerve to speak to him."

Many of the characters in King Hedley II first appeared in Seven Guitars. How does Ruby in 1985 differ from Ruby in 1940?

When she was in Seven Guitars, she was a very young girl; now she has a young boy. She's trying to reconnect with her son. She never knew how to be a mother. She's not a lovable kind of person, but she grows on you.

Many actors shy away from such characters. …

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