Singing the Songs of Cy
By Keith Loria
From the Princeton Packet
Fans of the ’80s TV drama “Knots Landing” will tell you that one of the most memorable scenes of the show’s 14-year run was when Michele Lee’s Karen Mackenzie delivered what has become known as the “Pollyanna” speech, claiming, “I want the world to be rose-colored. I want people to be nice. People should be nice. Nice should be the norm.”
That’s how the multiple Emmy- and Tony-nominated actress has lived her life, and it’s why she is considered one of the most beloved performers in Hollywood and on Broadway. Aside from her iconic work on “Knots,” Ms. Lee has made countless appearances on TV and Broadway, including being a part of such shows as “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” and “Wicked.”
Legendary composer Cy Coleman once described Ms. Lee as a “surefire powerhouse performer. She embraces a lyric like nobody can.” And now, she’s paying tribute to her friend. On Oct. 14, Ms. Lee will perform at the Bucks County Playhouse in the show, “Michele Lee: Nobody Does It Like Me, The Music of Cy Coleman” under the music direction of Rob Abel. The show will include songs like “Nobody Does it Like Me” and “It’s Not Where You Start” from her Tony-nominated performance in the musical “Seesaw.”
“I am beside myself about this show. I have to say it’s brilliant,” she says. “I found some facts about Cy and some songs people wouldn’t realize he wrote. He did everything from jazz to Beethoven, in addition to Broadway and pop. The intricacies of his music and his compositions are so singular. I mean, when you look at all his work, it’s just amazing.”
The show will include some surprises from Coleman’s songbook, including Ms. Lee’s interpretation of Broadway’s lead female characters found in many of his musicals. In that, songs like “Big Spender,” “Rules of the Road” and “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life,” are done in a medley.
Also expect Coleman favorites “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “Witchcraft” and others, from “Sweet Charity” to “City of Angels” and more.
“I love working to an audience and this is a show that I can say is my favorite that I have ever done,” Ms. Lee says. “It turned out to be so special musically, as well as speaking to my friendship and the talents of Cy.”
Ms. Lee first met Mr. Coleman more than 40 years ago, when she was cast in his Broadway-bound musical, “Seesaw,” as street-smart dancer Gittel Mosca.
“I had to learn this show just two and a half weeks before performing on the stage,” Ms. Lee says. “Cy was the master with baton over me just teaching me everything. Songs were changing every day — some going in and others going out. While we instantly became student and teacher, our relationship grew to become something even bigger and we stayed friends until the day he died. He would come see me in concert, and there were many times when I would come sing with him in different venues.”
All of her fond memories are too numerous to put in one tribute, and Ms. Lee has changed up the show since first doing it two years ago, but the one thing that never changes is the great music or the obvious love she has for Coleman.
“He was always with a smile and this impish grin,” she says. “I piece together all of this through vignettes so they get a sense of Cy though time and his terrific sense of humor. It’s just something I am so passionate about.”
Michele Lee will perform “Nobody Does It Like Me, The Music of Cy Coleman” at the Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., New Hope, Pennsylvania, Oct. 14, 8 p.m. For tickets and information, go to bcptheater.org or call 215-862-2121.
The Princeton Packet and Greater Media Newspapers are part of the Newspaper Media Group.