Michele Lee, of '80's era soap opera Knots Landing fame, will perform Cy Coleman tunes in a tribute celebrating the composer's birthday at 54 Below for three nights, June 11-13. A great and giving storyteller, Lee's engagement should be a music fest, yes, but also anecdote-laden treat, with some tasty Broadway legend tidbits. The multi-talented star, first came on my radar on television, in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and in my very first Broadway show, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, with Rudy Vallee and a young Robert Morse, now known as Mad Men's Bert Cooper. More recently off Broadway Lee was part of the rotating cast of Love, Loss, and What I Wore, written by Delia and Nora Ephron. I had a chance to talk to Michele Lee about her next great moment-- on the intimate cabaret stage.
Why do you want to play at 54 Below again?
The place. It's a very sexy speakeasy. It feels like a living room and the food is great. It makes me feel sexy. I use the stage to connect with people. And besides, they get incredible people to perform.
What will you be doing?
A Cy Coleman show, "Nobody Does It Like Me." On the 20th Century, now on Broadway, is his show. The third day of the run, June 13, is his birthday. He would be 86.
Tell me about Cy Coleman and your work with him on Seesaw.
He was like the schoolmaster. A show writer, Cy also composed every kind of music you can imagine. Cy had a jazz trio. He did the opening theme for Hugh Hefner's "Playboy After Dark." Cy played Carnegie Hall before he was 10. A book came out about him, You Fascinate Me So. I remained friends with Cy after Seesaw, his musical with Michael Bennett, and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, her last show before she died. Tommy Tune, Michael Bennett and I were brought in. Based on the William Gibson play Two for the Seesaw, the plot focuses on a brief affair between Jerry Ryan, a young lawyer from Nebraska, and Gittel Mosca, a kooky, streetwise dancer from the Bronx. I won a Drama Desk Award for Best Performance in 1974. Who wouldn't want to do HIS music, for starters 'The Best Is Yet To Come,' 'Witchcraft,' 'Hey Big Spender,' 'You Fascinate Me So,' 'Firefly,' 'Where Am I Going' and 'It's Not Where You Start.'"
What are some of the challenges of performing cabaret?
Live, you can forget a lyric. On camera, you can always do it again. Barbra and Liza have electric cue cards. Cabaret may seem small, but when my feet hit the floor, I am onstage, live. I embody a character. Cy used to say about me, "I open my mouth and things fall out of it."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.