By Brian Scott Lipton





The music of the late, great composer Cy Coleman never went out of fashion, thanks to Broadway shows like “Sweet Charity” and “The Life” and pop hits like “The Best Is Yet to Come.” But Coleman, who died suddenly in 2004, has perhaps never been quite as popular as he is right now. His award-winning 1977 musical “On the 20th Century” has been revived by the Roundabout Theatre Company and is nominated for five 2015 Tony Awards; journalist Andy Propst has just published a brilliant biography of Coleman, “You Fascinate Me So,” and now one of his closest friends, Michele Lee, will be paying tribute to him in her new show at 54 Below, “Nobody Does It Like Me: The Music of Cy Coleman,” which will run from June 11 through June 13 (which just happens to be Coleman’s 86th birthday).

“I am beside myself about this show. I have to say it’s brilliant,” says Lee. “I found some facts about Cy and some songs people wouldn’t realize he wrote. He did everything from jazz to Beethoven, in addition to Broadway and pop. The intricacies of his music and his compositions are so singular. I mean, when you look at all his work from his early days working with Hugh Hefner and ‘Playboy’ through Broadway, it’s just amazing”

Lee was already a beloved Broadway and film star — having played Rosemary in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and Carole in “The Love Bug,” — when she met Coleman more than 40 years ago. Coleman’s Broadway-bound musical “Seesaw,” an adaptation of William Gibson’s play “Two for the Seesaw,” was in big out-of-town trouble, when director Michael Bennett was called in to take over the show. One of Bennett’s biggest changes was replacing original star Lainie Kazan with Lee in the role of street-smart dancer Gittel Mosca.

“We had just such a short moment in time to throw together this show and a lot was put on my shoulders,” recalls Lee. “Cy was the master with baton over me for two unbelievable weeks just teaching me everything. Songs were changing every day – some going in and others going out. While we instantly became student and teacher, our relationship grew to become something even bigger and we stayed friends until the day he died. He would come see me in concert, and there were many times when I would come sing with him in different venues.”

Perhaps the pair’s greatest bonding experience, and a sure-to-be-highlight of Lee’s show, will be Gittel’s final song “I’m Way Ahead.” Says Lee: “That whole song was put up in one day. Neil Simon, who wrote the book, told Michael that he didn’t think Gittel’s original last song had enough emotional content and that Cy needed to write something more cathartic for me. So he did. Cy and I were in the back of this old yellow cab when he started teaching the song to me, and then we rushed up to some rehearsal studio where there was this old out-of-tune-piano and he finished teaching it to me there. And we put it into the show that night.”

Lee has played 54 Below in the past, and she can’t wait to return to this intimate venue. “First, there’s no difference between doing a concert and doing a cabaret as far I’m concerned. I plant my two feet on a wood floor, whether it’s raked or not, and I perform these little playlets for the audience,” she says. “But one of things I love most about 54 Below is that it really feels like an elegant living room. I get up there, and I know I’ll have friends out there in the audience, and I might even be able to speak to them. Let’s face it: I like to say when I open my mouth, you never know what’s going to happen. I call it the danger of Michele Lee.”

Michele Lee: ‘Nobody Does It Like Me” – The Music of Cy Coleman    June 11 thru 13

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