I’ve long held Michele Lee in high esteem ever since seeing her on stage and screen in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and catching a club act she did back in those days. I believe it was in the old Persian Room of the Plaza Hotel. Therefore, it was with happy expectations that I attended her new show at 54 Below on January 30, 2014. (Two more shows were scheduled for January 31 and February 1.) Expectations were proved justified. Lee blasted off with an energy-filled, personality-plus program mixing songs and anecdotes, and backed by a five-piece band. Lee came across as a show biz dynamo.
With a voice that is more power-packed than melodic, she impresses as the consummate “Broadway baby,” who not only knows her way around a song that she can belt winningly, but has the acting chops to provide strong interpretations. She also has timing expertise. She is adept at telling stories and making them seem as if unrehearsed, and if she blows a line, she has the knack of turning it into a congenial plus. In short, it was a lot of fun being in the room with her and savoring her performance.
Lee began from off stage with “Feeling Good” by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, building as she arrived in front of her audience. She firmly established herself with the amusingly self-deprecating “Nobody Does It Like Me,” by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields. Taking the Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock song “She Loves Me” from the show of that name, she altered the gender to “He Loves Me” in a lively interpretation.
Lee showed her more subtle side with “I Believe in You” by Frank Loesser, and her passionate side with “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell. There was also the women’s lib side. Donning an apron, she packed satire into Loesser”s “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” followed by her turning up the heat with Peggy Lee’s “I’m a Woman”--a very savvy song pairing. Her “The Man I Can Love” by Stan Daniels gave her another opportunity at humor, singing of a man with everything wrong as the only person she can love.
Lee told an amusing but hardly serious anecdote about meeting President Clinton, who, she said, asked whether she would like to go out with him. Her thoughts leapt at the idea, but it turned out he was merely offering to shield her from the rain with an umbrella to escort her out from inside to her car. She knows how to pump up such a tale. Describing a last-minute effort by Cy Coleman to create a song in the back of a taxi, she played a brief recording of Coleman’s singing before she performed the resulting “Seesaw Finale.”
Lee also put her stamp on other numbers, and the bottom line was that she created a striking vocal and verbal presence. She also looked great in a glittering jacket and pants outfit. At 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street. Phone: 646-476-3551. Reviewed January 31, 2014.