By Bonnie DeShong
Roy Orbison introduced us to the song “Pretty Woman” back in 1965. In 1990, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere starred in the movie by the same name. A film that I watch every time it comes on television; it’s so romantic. I never thought it would come to the stage but it has. I had the opportunity to pull Kingsley Leggs out of rehearsals for a short chat.
Hi Kingsley, I hear you spent quite a bit of time here in Chicago.
Kingsley: Seven years. I was a North Sider and lived on Blaine between Broadway and Clarendon. I loved Chicago. I came here from St. Louis. I grew up in the St. Louis area. I got a job and came to Chicago and I worked at the Apollo Theater. We were being housed in – I guess it used to be – the Belmont Hotel, right at the corner of Belmont and Sheridan. I just fell in love with the city. My fiancé at the time and I decided to move here to further our careers. We were both in the entertainment industry. This city is great and I really enjoyed my time here. This was certainly a wonderful place for an actor to be with lots of theater going on. Lots of movies were being shot here. There was a lot going on during that time. It was just a great place to be.
Since you’ve been back and are in the show “Pretty Woman,” has it changed a lot?
Kingsley: Yeah, I came back through here touring with Sister Act in 2012. I think I was here for about four weeks. Yeah, I mean there were a lot of things. One, there was no Millennium Park when I lived here. They had moved from Lake Shore Drive back to the flat where it used to be. But pretty much the energy and the pulse and the beauty in the city has not changed. It’s a world-class city. I’m always excited for any opportunity to come here. I still have lots of friends here, so it’s great to see people and reconnect with friends. I just like this town. It’s a great place to be.
Let’s talk about “Pretty Woman.” It’s one of my favorite films. Every time it comes on television I have to just stop and just watch it. When it was announced that it was being adapted to the stage I couldn’t picture it. How is the transition from film to stage?
Kingsley: Well, I don’t want to give any of our surprises away, but I guess the main difference is that we have an incredible score of music written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance that will uplift the story, heighten the story and they’re just really great songs that are memorable, fun and that really help us to tell the story. It really kind of puts you in not only the time period, but it has its own personality. I think that’s the biggest difference from the movie. You along with so many other people loved the movie and I hear people say all the time, whenever it comes on I always watch. So, there are a lot of expectations and a lot of people to please. But I think that all the people who are big fans and love the movie, who are enchanted with the love story, will be very happy that the things that they love about the movie will be there and they’ll get some extra, wonderful surprises.
Let’s talk about your character, James. Tell us about him.
Kingsley: The backdrop of the story is a business world. James March and Edward Lewis – they’re big businessmen. Edward Lewis he buys his companies and dismantles them and takes them over. He’s trying to take over my business. I own several shipping yards. It’s a family business. I’m bringing my grandson up in the company. So, I’m trying to save my business and he’s trying to take it over. Essentially, it’s a small part that is essential to the story, because it has important plot points. In many ways, I just kind of facilitate a moral compass for Edward Lewis in terms of how he does business. I’m a more relaxed guy and I realized that I like making money and I like doing good business, but I also care about people. I want to save people’s jobs and try to help people along. He wants to just make money and tear things down.
Over several years there has been a wonderful influx of cross-diversity casting. You being in the midst of it, what are you seeing as far as stage, theater, and film with the diversity casting that’s going on now? Or do you see there’s not enough?
Kingsley: Well there is, I think it has come from such a long way from what it used to be. The things were truly unequal. There was such a long way to go that I think sometimes people don’t realize that we’ve really come a long way. Yes, there’s still ground to be gained. Everything is a process. No one probably would expect me to be playing the role that I’m playing in the show. I think unfortunately it has to come about by people persisting and demanding change. But that’s just kind of how the world works. Nothing changes until it becomes a conflict. Conflicts bring about change. So, I think we’re at a wonderful time for African-Americans, for minorities, for any group that has been oppressed or felt left out. I think we’re on the precipice of great change. I think that is obvious when you watch television, when you look at magazines, and when you look at advertising. Yes, there are other places to go; do we have a long way to go? Yes, we do. But we’ve come a really, really long way and made great strides in equality. We just have to continue the fight. I think that the people who make the decisions and who have the money, they’re the ones who control it. It doesn’t matter who you have in the show, if no one is coming.
When I first moved to Chicago in the mid-70s to do theater, the only theater that would cast non-traditional roles was the Goodman and Victory Gardens. It seems to be doing better here in Chicago.
Kingsley: But now it’s become an important thing for a company or an industry to do. Even sometimes maybe for the wrong reasons, but the fact that it’s being done is still important. The more that you see us in different roles and in different capacities, the more it begets. I think television has had a lot to do with that, because there’s such an influx of television now. There’s so much. Everybody’s producing television. It has allowed for a lot more diversity than we’ve ever seen. All the industries are connected so, if it works in one, then you go on and see how this can work for others?
You’ve done stage, television and film. What would be your advice to a young person who is in college now, on stage, trying to decide if acting is going to be their career?
Kingsley: My number one piece of advice always to students is to learn as much as you can about as much as you can that has to do with the industry and have a plan. Know what you want from this. I spent many years being blessed to work a lot. But I didn’t necessarily sit down and plan out what I wanted from the business. What I wanted from—I had dreams. At one point when I was here, I wanted to work in the Goodman Theater, so I did that. Then I wanted to be on Broadway. Then I got on Broadway. So, I had those short-term goals and dreams, but you really kind of need a life plan, because this is not for the faint of heart. You have to really want this to do this, because there are a lot of ups and downs and a lot of inconsistency with a lot of peaks and valleys. You may really have to want it but it’s best to know what you want from it. The sooner that you can start looking at where you want to end, the more that’s going to drive you and influence and create positive outcome for your journey through it. Because you know where you’re going to be, and where you want to be. Put yourself in the right places. Everything is about relationships. You have to build good relationships with people and do your work. The rest will come.
“Pretty Woman” will be at the Oriental Theater in Chicago through April 15th. Don’t miss it.
Until next time keep your EYE to the sky!