THEATRICAL THROWBACK THURSDAY: She's Way Ahead! Happy Birthday To Michele Lee

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Today we salute a Broadway and Hollywood star just announced to be making her return to Broadway in WICKED.

It's Not Where You Start

"It's not where you start / It's where you finish," goes one of the unforgettable showstoppers from Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields's rarely produced but fascinating 1974 musical comedy SEESAW. Based on the hit play TWO FOR THE SEESAW by William Gibson, SEESAW featured a sensational headlining part for the leading lady - and the actress chosen to lead the production milked it for every sonorous note, breathtaking choreographic flourish and laugh she could command; the instantly recognizable Michele Lee, born on June 24, 1942. Having replaced her own best friend as the star of the show on the road leading to Broadway, no less than the Lainie Kazan - unbeknownst to both at the time of Lee's hiring, in a Machiavellian move only master director/choreographer Michael Bennett could have ARRANGED - Lee catapulted to the top of the musicals heap with her Tony Award-nominated turn in the tuner. Alas, the 1974 Tony Award for Best Actress In A Musical went to Virginia Capers for RAISIN, though Lee did manage to snag that year's Drama Desk Award, yet Lee made a major mark on the hearts and minds of Broadway babies with her showy work in the beloved if little-seen show and her performance is still discussed to this day as a result.

Of course, Lee had already established herself as a musical comedy star of the highest order with her recognizable role in the big screen adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING opposite original Broadway leading man Robert Morse before that, after having previously appeared on Broadway in the short-lived musical revue VINTAGE '60 and as a replacement Rosemary in HOW TO SUCCEED... on Broadway in its original 1961 mounting, not to mention the famous flop Bravo GIOVANNI. Sadly, it was more than 30 years before Lee would return to the Great White Way following her smashing success in SEESAW due to her heyday as a top TV star in KNOTS LANDING and beyond - nonetheless, THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST'S WIFE proved to be a RUNAWAY hit and Lee stayed with the show for nearly two years. Now, with news this week of her WICKED replacement gig following a triumphant series of solo shows at NYC cabaret hot spot 54 Below, Lee is poised to bring her unique musical gifts and fabulous flair for comedy to an entirely new generation in one of the biggest musical sensations in Broadway history.

Go back to 1973 and see what all the buzz was about with Michele Lee in SEESAW on the 1974 Tony Awards.

So, what has been your absolute favorite Michele Lee performance to date, whether onstage or onscreen? Furthermore, what role would you love to see her take on most of all on Broadway in the future, near or far? With a WICKED starting date set for this Summer and Lee finally being back on Broadway in a big way, anything is possible - after all, it's not where you start....

Photo Credit: Genevieve Rafter Kennedy

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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)