‘I try to bring truth to the material’

By Allan I. Ross
Kingsley Leggs, co-star of \"The Gershwins\' Porgy and Bess.\" Courtesy photo.

INTERVIEW: Kingsley Leggs, co-star of ‘The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess’

Thursday, March 20 —Kingsley Leggs plays Sporting Life, the smooth-talking drug dealer in “The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess,” playing through Sunday at the Wharton Center. He played Curtis Anderson, a smooth-talking gangster (do we detect a pattern here?) in last year’s “Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy.”

He took some time to answer questions about opportunities for black actors on Broadway, his penchant for playing villains and his thoughts about being in Michigan in the cold season.

Are you doing anything different with Sporting Life character than other actors have done?
Sporting Life brings the party to Catfish Row. He's a drug-dealing pimp who is directly responsible for Bess' downfall. I don't know how different or similar my portrayal is to others. I just try to bring truth to and through the material.

Did you have any kind of relationship with this material before you took the role?
I had a few of the songs from the show in my repertoire in the operatic versions. I also performed in a Gershwin tribute with the St. Louis Symphony Pops Orchestra many years ago. I saw the Broadway show twice before working on the piece and I had seen the opera years ago as well. I tried to approach things from a fresh perspective that was accurate and true to the Gullah people and the time period.

Are you attracted to villainous roles or do you see something in these characters that you think you can depict in a unique way?
Lol … I have no affinity towards these types of roles. I think that I have a knack for playing them. Unfortunately in this business, that knack can become a pigeonhole. I like to play characters of all types and influences.

Do you find opportunities for African-American actors are getting any better or any worse?
Well the fact that I am answering questions about playing a pimp and drug dealer in 2014 says how far we have not progressed. Don't get me wrong. I think it is obvious that African Americans and most minorities are much more visible than ever before. However, you have to look at the kind of roles and opportunities they are portraying and being offered and the amount of African-American shows being produced versus Other Shows to gauge the fairness and diplomacy of the situation.

Have you been through Lansing before?

I have played (the Wharton Center) twice before. Once in the ‘80s with a small review touring out of St. Louis and last year with “Sister Act.” I grew up in the Midwest so I'm used to the cold. Bring it on!

“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”

Wharton Center, Cobb Great Hall

Through Sunday, March 23

7:30 p.m. tonight-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday- Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

$37-$72/$25 students.

750 W. Shaw Lane, East Lansing

(517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com