PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Michele Lee, Going From "Knots Landing" to 54 Below

By Ben Rimalower
26 Jan 2014

Joni Mitchell.

ML: Joni Mitchell, who was just an artist. You can look a piece of art, a drawing — an artist does that, a painter and an artist. You look at something in a museum, or you're in someone's home, or you're even looking at a child's piece of art, and what it says to you might be very different than what it says to the person next to you. So as an artist, when I do a song, and I say words, like

Just before our love got lost you said
"I am as constant as a northern star"
And I said "Constantly in the darkness
Where's that at?
If you want me I'll be in the bar"

What does it mean? To someone else, it might mean, I'm going to go have a margarita. You want to meet me there in about 10 minutes? It could be that, you see? But I believe when she says, "I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet," she is miserably addicted to a bad boy. And she'll keep going back.

I don't necessarily talk about that — it's not that I want to teach an audience, I want to entertain them — but sometimes when you look at a piece of art like "A Case of You," it's really nice to get into the head of the composer and see how it comes out through another vessel.

Your 54 Below show is billed as having a medley of songs "depicting the change in women's attitudes in theatre over the course of time." Can you tell me about that?

ML: One of the first shows I did on Broadway was How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, where I did a song called "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm."

I'll be there waiting until his mind is clear
While he looks through me, right through me;
Waiting to say, "Good evening, dear.
I'm pregnant. What's new with you from downtown?"

I knew what I was singing, but the thing is that my generation of women — we fought! We were women's lib — liberation — the beginning of the understanding that there was a lot more for us... But I knew I was a wife and mother first, and for me, I had to have my career. I was one of the women who said, "I can have everything."