by: Paulanne Simmons
Last weekend would have marked Cy Coleman’s 86th birthday. In celebration of his life and work Michele Lee made a New York appearance at 54 below, singing the Coleman songbook in her 3-night show, Nobody Does It LIke Me.
If Lee is a big fan of Coleman, she has good reason. It was Coleman who composed the music for Seesaw, which earned her a Tony nomination and a Drama Desk award for her portrayal of Gittel Mosca the wacky dancer from the Bronx..
But the admiration appears to have been mutual. Coleman once said, “Michele Lee is a surefire powerhouse performer. She embraces a lyric like nobody can.” This was definitely in evidence during the show. But that’s only part of the story. Lee embraces the lyric while she plunges into the music with a full heart and a twinkle in her eye.
Coleman wrote lots of songs for female performers and Lee covered a good many of them: “Big Spender” from Sweet Charity and “Poor Everybody Else” and “Nobody Does It LIke Me” from Seesaw. She was backed by her musical director, Ron Abel, on piano and an all-girl band, Sherrie Maricle on drums, Melissa Slocum on bass and Nikki Denner on synthesizer, which seems appropriate for this composer who had a penchant for women who “loved not wisely but too well.”
Before singing “The Oldest Profession” from The Life, Lee joked that she hoped Lillias White wasn’t in the room. White, of course, won the 1997 Tony for her portrayal of Sonja, who sings, “I’m getting too old for to climb all those stairs, now, A half dozen times every night./I’m getting too old for to take em in pairs now, Or to take off my clothes in the light.” Lee’s quip got a laugh, but her performance got a huge round of applause.
Stars of musical theater need to be adept at portraying their stage characters. But in cabaret, performers need to project their own personalities. Lee has that personal touch with both the songs she sings and the audience she entertains that allows her to bring musical theater off the stage and into the intimate nightlife world.
54 Below is located at 254 West 54 Street www.54below.com.