By Andrew Poretz . . .
Therese Lee is a Los Angeles-based performer who, some years ago, stumbled into the job of a red-carpet interviewer, working for a media company. Ms. Lee gathered some of the best anecdotes of her many A-list interviews of actors like George Clooney, Robin Williams and Dyan Cannon and, with the help of director Jeff Harnar and musical director Doug Peck, created Riding the Bus to the Red Carpet. The show, first presented on the West Coast last year, is a well-crafted, autobiographical journey of an accidental career detour.
The singer Ann Hampton Callaway frequently does a bit where, after mentioning a celebrity she knows, she pretends to pick something up from the stage. “Oh, I dropped a name!” Therese Lee makes name dropping into a musical art form. The performer possesses excellent comic timing, storytelling skills, and a solid singing voice. Her song choices (with occasional special lyrics she wrote with Jeff Harnar) effectively tell her story and reinforce her patter.
Ms. Lee, dressed in a sparkly black and oyster ensemble, weaved details of her journey from/to the red-carpet reporter, weaving her patter between the lyrics of “If You Knew My Story” (Steve Martin/Edie Brickell). A number of her songs were presented in this manner (lyrics/story/lyrics…).
In “On the Other Side of the Tracks” (Cy Coleman/ Carolyn Leigh), a swell, name-dropping “list song” with additional lyrics by Ms. Lee and Jeff Harnar, she listed more bold names than an issue of People Magazine. The self-described “filmaholic” — she could hardly remember people from high school, but she remembers every movie character — sang the apropos “Just Go to the Movies” (Jerry Herman), another list song filled with name-dropping of old Hollywood stars like Errol Flynn, Alice Fay and Don Ameche.
A delightfully humorous story involving a screening of The Wizard of Oz and surviving Munchkins led into a slowed-down rendition of “If I Only Had a Brain” (Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg). Ms. Lee’s lovely and thoughtful interpretation gave the song an entirely new perspective.
After Ms. Lee humorously recreated several of her (failed) auditions, she sang “What’s Gonna Happen” from Tootsie (David Yazbek), which of course was the story of a failed actor who posed as an actress to find success after many fruitless auditions. The lyrics, reflecting the self-doubt of a struggling, failed actress/singer, mirrored her own failures before finding success. The song requires an impressive amount of memorization and exquisite timing to pull off, and Ms. Lee nailed it.
Speaking of the time she was rendered nearly speechless by the “gorgeous” George Clooney, who touched her hand, Ms. Lee launched into a star-struck take on “He Touched Me” (Milton Schafer/Ira Levin), a big number for Barbra Streisand. Ms. Lee’s interpretation was sweet and touching.
The show turned a serious, dark, discussion of sexual trauma. “Not by a priest, by similar.” Ms. Lee’s deeply personal take on Lady Gaga’s “‘Til It Happens to You” (Diane Warren/Stefani Germanotta) was powerful and intensely emotional. “I’m a survivor, too,” she confessed, and, shaking from this stunning revelation, she had to collect herself. This was quite a brave choice. This piece was coupled with “Hello in There” (John Prine), and Ms. Lee’s story of an uncomfortable press junket for The Aristocrats, a film that has dozens of comics tell their version of a depraved “comedian’s joke” that, for her, served to trigger her past sexual trauma.
If the previous few songs were “aha!” moments, the uptempo “One Step” (David Shire/Richard Maltby, Jr.) was a “ta-da!” moment, complete with a magician’s top hat. Accompanist Doug Peck sang harmony and counterpoint with Ms. Lee. It was quite fun.
Ms. Lee closed the show with “Thanks for The Memory” (Leo Robin/Ralph Rainger), with additional lyrics she wrote with Mr. Harnar.
Therese Lee’s New York cabaret debut was a fine start for this California dreamer. She is a fine entertainer and writer, and speaks a truth that revealed funny stories of her life on the red carpet, as well as a devastatingly personal aspect. The show ought to be seen by a wider audience.
Therese Lee – April 23, 2022
Riding the Bus to the Red Carpet
Music direction, arrangements and piano accompaniment: Doug Peck
Director: Jeff Harnar
158 West 72nd Street, NYC
Photos: David Goodman