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BWW Reviews: MICHELE LEE's First LA Cabaret a Smash at Catalina

On Sunday May 17 at Catalina Jazz Club renowned actress/singer Michele Lee made her Los Angeles cabaret debut. Why has it taken this long? She takes her one-woman show Catch the Light on the road regularly and recently played 54 Below in NYC, but has never played a club in her hometown of LA. Well, it's high time, and the packed house agreed as the four-piece orchestra played the Beatles' "Michelle, ma belle..." as Lee was introduced to thunderous applause. She made her way through the audience singing the powerhouse "Feeling Good", and with a combination of incredible drive and energy, an uber strong vocal style and sheer sauciness and personal sass, Lee's conquest of the room was guaranteed.

Looking fabulous in black satin and sequins, she next essayed "Nobody Does It Like Me" from her Broadway hit Seesaw. In the show she played Gittel Mosca, a brazen lower middle-class Jewish broad who found herself in love with lawyer Jerry Ryan. It was a role for Lee in the 70s and everytime she sings songs from Seesaw, she shows just how ferocious and fearless an actress she can be. In her third number "I Could Write a Book" she got more personal with the audience about what it's like to be a celebrity and started to relax - with her thoroughly contagious sense of humor - into what became a fun, thrilling evening of story and song. Lee is a knockout actress and singer who turns the lyrics inside out, upside down and really makes a song tick. Behind her in the 80-minute set were great musicians: Mary Ekler at the piano/musical director, Randy Landis on bass, Jim McCarty on drums and Steve Welch on keyboard.

Other highlights of the evening included: Joni Mitchell's very bittersweet and touching "A Case of You", the exuberant "I Got Rhythm", "I Believe in You", which she sang in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying during the Kennedy assassination in 1963. She told a terrific story here about singing the song and realizing how the lyrics fit miraculously America's adulation of John F. Kennedy. Lovely sentiment! Forgetting the introductory words to "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Mis, she started over a couple of times, but when she hit it, she really knocked it out of the park. This honesty in cabaret shows great vulnerability, which Lee possesses in spades, and for me is the hallmark of all great actresses. She did a nice turnaround performing "He Loves Me", usually sung by a man about a woman and blew everyone away with her eleventh hour soliloquy from Seesaw. She introduced this with an audio tape of composer Cy Coleman teaching her the song days before she had to perform it opening night on Broadway.

A couple of really moving moments came as she talked about a Knots Landing reunion many years after a 14 year stay on CBS. She nicely worked Sunset Boulevard's "As If We Never Said Goodbye" into the framework of returning to the soundstage for the reunion. Afterwards, there were some light moments as she introduced producer David Jacobs, and actresses/friends Joan Van Ark and Donna Mills from Knots, who were in attendance. (photos below)

There was a delightfully funny segment in which Lee showed how women's attitudes have changed over the decades. She donned an apron and sang, "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm" from How to Succeed and next plunged into a torchy "I Am a Woman". There were also some very funny stories about meeting president Obama and Bill Clinton, showing once again Lee's humility and good nature.

Don't miss Michele Lee, singer/performer extraordinaire when she returns this summer to 54 Below with a whole new show in honor of composer/friend Cy Coleman. Hopefully she will perform this show in Hollywood at some point. She brings such electricity to the cabaret stage, a vitality that is simultaneously unique and terribly warm and cozy. Brava!

(photo credit: Jim Spada/Don Grigware)

left to right: Joan Van Ark camping it up, Michele Lee, Donna Mills

left to right: Joan Van Ark, Michele Lee, Donna Mills

left to right: Joan Van Ark, Michele Lee, Donna Mills

left to right: Joan Van Ark, author Jim Spada, Donna Mills

left to right: actress Renee Gorsey from How to Succeed, Michele Lee

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From This Author - Don Grigware

  Don Grigware was a writer for BroadwayWorld through December 2019.                            ... (read more about this author)