Veteran Broadway diva Michele Lee returned to the nitery stage with an encore presentation of “Catch the Light,” the smoothly tailored cabaret act she premiered at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency three years ago. Lee is a belter of the Mermanesque school – vibrant, rich and musically assured. In a benefit performance for the Actor’s Fund, the lady offered a biographical narrative that was dotted with career highlights from “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Seesaw” and a long run on the tube in “Knot’s Landing.”
As a teen Lee made an impressive appearance, replacing a very pregnant ingénue as the love struck secretary in the Frank Loesser Pulitzer Prize winning tuner, opposite the impish Robert Morse, whom the singer confessed to be an outrageous scene stealer. A brief chorus of “I Believe in You” from that show was sandwiched in her opening medley of Anthony Newley’s “Pure Imagination” and Duke Ellington’s “I’m Beginning to See the Light.”
Lee even offered a saucy take on “Everybody Loves My Baby,” a flapper ditty from the roaring ’20s that she was singing in her Gotham nitery debut at the long gone Persian Room 40 years ago.
With a nod to her turn in the TV soaper and the end of her marriage to actor James Farentino, Lee sang the old movie tune “You’ll Never Know” that sent arrows straight to the heart of the beholder. More torchy grandeur surfaced with “Time After Time” and “I Wanna be Around.” A consummate story teller, Her singing is a studied balance of brass and velvet.
Lee recreated her Tony nominated role as Gittel Mosca in the 1973 “Seesaw” with a couple of trenchant turns written by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields. A defiant “Nobody Does It Better” and “I’m Way Ahead,” an anthem of survival, displayed the kind of stage savvy missing from the Broadway stage.