During her Tony-nominated turn in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, the shock of September 11 hit Michele Lee—like the rest of the world—pretty damn hard. “Everyone was holding hands and doing everything we could to help the victims,” Lee recalls of the scrambling, emotional chaos of that time, “and they came to us in the theatre community and said, ‘Can you raise some money for us?’ Asking,” Lee remembers with a bit of fear, “‘Can you sing?’” The question made Lee confront something that, for decades, had been missing from her life: singing.
“Music is really where I started,” confides the gal whose performance as Rosemary in the original Broadway production of How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying secured her the part in the 1967 film version, but who is still most widely known as the Emmy-nominated TV star of “Knots Landing.” In preparation for those 9/11 benefits, Lee promptly returned to her old voice teacher. “And, I opened my mouth and just started crying.” Pausing at the memory, as well as the irony of the situation, Lee says, “I was so filled with joy. I couldn’t believe I’d let singing go for so long.
“During 9-11, [when] we were enmeshed in such sorrow,” Lee explains that she thought it was necessary to try to find the positives in humanity. That mindset gave birth to her new one-woman show. Entitled Catch the Light, Lee will premiere it in New York at Feinstein’s at the Regency, November 15-26.
With a song list that includes Loesser’s “I Believe in You” and Lennon’s “Imagine,” the genesis of Catch the Light—which, Lee says, “celebrates the wonderment of life, the things that we lose along the way”—came from her childhood. “My parents would shine a light on my bedroom ceiling. They told me it was the good fairy. And, I’d run toward it, and it would fly away. But somehow I always thought I could catch it because every night I’d go back and try again. And I thought, ‘What is that?’ It’s imagination. To dream. To invent.” In a post-9/11 world, Lee believes it is one of our most sacred gifts. Those familiar with Lee’s Broadway background can expect her Feinstein’s run to include songs from Seesaw, the Cy Coleman musical that earned her a 1973 Tony nomination. Singing the knockout ballads “Nobody Does it Like Me” and “I’m Way Ahead” in the musical, which only ran nine months, earned Lee cult status. “[‘I’m Way Ahead’ is] the one thing I sang after 9/11,” Lee says of that soaring finale. “Real Seesaw aficionados—the people who saw it 20 times, or the generations who never saw it, but because the cast recording is so brilliantly produced, all talk about it—always want to hear that finale. And, at Feinstein’s,” Lee reports, “I promise I won’t disappoint.”
—Actor-writer David Drake contributes a monthly column, "The Cabaret Beat," to the Playbill subscription issue.