Broadway, Television, Film and Concert artist Michele Lee beguiled at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater with a disarming and engaging set of songs written by the prolific Broadway composer Cy Coleman. Lee, so well-known from the Broadway hits How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Seesaw and the popular television series Knot’s Landing, infused her very distinctive stamp on the many beloved songs of composer Coleman.
Lee has such an obvious passion for performing and this passion permeated each song that she performed. Often, shows or concerts that are produced in tribute to someone can seem too reverential to a fault or —on the other extreme- too scattershot and casual in what to include within the time constraints. This concert was meticulously put together on all levels and hit just the right “delicate balance” of respect for Coleman and healthy laughter and anecdotes courtesy of the highly comedic style (she is a genuinely funny woman) and endearing patter of Ms. Lee.
Lee stepped out on the stage with a stunning black sequined tailored outfit and kicked things off with an earthy and subtly sinuous interpretation of “The Best is Yet To Come.” Her very deep and resonant lower register carried the song to sumptuous heights.
Lee’s rendition of her famous number from Seesaw—Coleman’s “Nobody Does it Like Me” was sung with an amazing sense of nuance and comic timing.
Lee talked about the fact that Coleman was a child prodigy and had formed a jazz trio prior to his theatrical work. She went on to mention that Coleman’s work was so influential that Frank Sinatra had the words of Coleman’s famous song emblazoned on his tombstone – namely, “The Best is Yet To Come.” She next delivered an extremely sexy and simmering rendition of Coleman’s standard “Big Spender” from Sweet Charity. Lee’s movements in this number and throughout the show were very lithe, tightly controlled and clearly delineated. One could almost see the ghost of Bob Fosse guiding Lee’s very “Fosee-esque” movements. Lee’s rendition was brazen, audacious, upbeat and captivating.
Lee discussed how Coleman had a knack for writing about women who are all too much in love and, then, surged swiftly into a medley of three Coleman songs about the intricacies of these women. She was at her best here as she sings most comfortably in this lower register with a cadence that allows her to utilize her actor’s skills to portray nuanced emotions. Particularly strong were her covers of the sophisticated “I Love My Wife” and the wistful fatalism of “The Rules of the Road.”
From Coleman’s musical tale of the thwarted dreams of the denizens of 42nd Street during the 70s, Lee gave a supremely comic and amusing take on “The Oldest Profession” from The Life. She was seated as appropriate on a chair during the entire song and so powerful was her interpretation that I could not take my eyes off of her. The long drawn-out ending of the song was hilariously drawn-out for ultimate effect.
An interesting curio piece was next—namely, a charming and innovative paean to creativity via the theatrical experience – from the unproduced Pamela’s First Musical. Entitled “It Started with a Dream”, Lee captured all the imagination, zest and passion that envisioning a theatrical production entails.
The next highlight (among an evening of many!) was a stunning arrangement by accomplished Musical Director and pianist Ron Abel of Coleman’s classic “Witchcraft.” A Bosa-Nova beat permeated this superior arrangement which also included introductions to all the members of her top-notch instrumental accompanists. Aside from Mr. Abel, Sherrie Maricle shone on Percussion, Melissa Slocum played a mean Bass and John DiPinto excelled on Keyboards.
To cap off her set, Lee gave a tour –de-force interpretation of the song “Seesaw” (from the musical of the same name). Backlit by beautiful lighting, Lee sang totally in character as Gittel Mosca and interpreted every line of the song with a variety of psychological complexity from romance to pathos and back again. Lee performed the piece as if it was a six-act play and the variety she injected into this song made it immensely pleasurable to the ear.
For an encore, Lee was the ultimate altruist as she had the house lights go up and proceeded to thank The Kennedy Center staff and team who assisted her so ably. She was voluble in praise of The Kennedy Center. She went on to introduce the past President of The Kennedy Center, Michael Kaiser. She also introduced members of her CBS television family including Bob Schieffer of 60 Minutes.
As her final song, Lee sang an entrancing and visionary rendition of the Coleman standard “The Colors of My Life” from the musical Barnum to sustained applause.
The eighty minutes of this concert had a very professional and polished sheen thanks to Ms. Lee’s virtuosity, the fluid synergy among the musicians and the superb pacing and coordination of all aspects from technical components to the writing.
Michele Lee is an indefatigable talent and pro who knows how to deliver the goods.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.
Barbara Cook’s Spotlight: Michele Lee: Nobody Does It Like Me, The Music of Cy Coleman was presented on Friday, November 6, 2015 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For information about further shows in the series, go to their events calendar page.