Pasadena, CA – Leslie Uggams as Lena Horne in “Stormy Weather” is in a word, mesmerizing.
And to go even further, her performance leaves you breathless and cheering for more. The outstanding cast, staging, music and dance tell an unforgettable story about the life, loves and hard knocks of one of the world’s most beautiful and outstanding entertainers, Lena Horne.

The play takes place at a time in Ms. Horne’s life when she’s reached her limit; she’s angry, hurt, lonely and bitter about a Hollywood system that never truly respected her beauty or great talents and a life she feels was dotted with mistakes and wrong decisions on her part. Through the help and support of a friend from her early years in Hollywood, Kay Thompson played by Dee Hoty, Horne takes us on a trip through her mind as she comes face to face with young Lena and tries to warn her and save her from a future of pain and frustration. She learns you can’t change history, but you can learn from it and thrive.

We get to see another side of the legendary Lena Horne, share in her hurt and disillusionment, and marvel at her determination to fight back. From her domineering yet loving mother, strong willed father, jive first husband, loving white husband, to her two children who endured a mother who seemingly lived for the bright lights of Hollywood and Broadway, expressing a deep love for all of them in her own way. Each one played a more than significant role in her life, and contributed to the legend we call Lena.

It is easy to single out Uggams because she’s a star in her own right. She belts out the classic tunes like magic and at times you swear you’re listening to Lena Horne, but that’s mainly because she’s picked up many of Horne’s mannerisms.

It seems Leslie Uggams has always been with us, in song at least. She is just as youthful and beautiful as she was on the Mitch Miller Show so many years ago. What a fitting and proper talent to play the role of Lena Horne.

Nikki Crawford plays young Lena, she is an amazing talent; her raw energy explodes on stage through her singing, dancing and acting. Robert Torti plays Hollywood Music Arranger, Composer Lennie Hayton, the man who fell in love with Lena and insisted on marrying her regardless of how the nation would frown upon their interracial romance. Torti’s performance is very real and very touching.

It is very difficult to single out every performance because I have limited space, but be assured “Stormy Weather” is brimming over with first rate performances by the entire cast.

Needless to say “Stormy Weather” is an excellent way to kick off Black History Month. This play is perfect for the entire family, perfect for those aspiring to be in any kind of career in the entertainment industry, and those interested in seeing how other people handle very private pain and survive and thrive.

The cast rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” is simply awe-inspiring. Looking at their faces while they were performing showed they all were coming from a very special place in their hearts and it just exploded on stage. That old gospel song written around 1920 came to represent the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s and seems to be picking up steam again and certainly in “Stormy Weather.”

Do yourself a favor, you gotta see “Stormy Weather” and take a friend. And join Leslie Uggams for a ‘Conversation With…’event moderated by Pasadena Playhouse Artistic Director Sheldon Epps February 11. Check with the theater for time and place.

“Stormy Weather” conceived and written by Sharleen Cooper Cohen, at the Pasadena Playhouse now until March 1, 2009.

– Gail Choice can be reached at gailchoice@strictlyhollywood.com.