It would probably take days for Michele Lee to fully recount her extraordinary, 45-year career. So it's not surprising that her cabaret show Michele Lee: Catch the Light, which begins a two-week run on November 15 at Feinstein's at the Regency, isn't a strictly autobiographical act.
"It's really about imagination," says Lee. "I wanted to create a journey that the audience can go on with me, a celebration of what we all have in common. But I do tell stories and sing songs about some of the important people and shows in my life. I'll be doing my two big songs from Seesaw; I found some great audiotapes that [the late composer] Cy Coleman made of me during rehearsals, and two of my musicians played with Cy's trio, so there's a special connection there. I'm also doing non-theater songs that mean something to me, like Joni Mitchell's 'A Case of You,' which is one of my favorites."
After three decades of working primarily in film and television, including 14 years on the CBS drama Knots Landing, Lee returned to Broadway in 2000 in The Tale of the Allergist's Wife and earned her second Tony Award nomination. (The first was for Seesaw in 1974.) Now she's addicted to being in front of the footlights. "My life really changed while I was on Knots," she says, "so I was very frightened when I first went back to live performing. But I've realized that I am someone who should be on stage. My first love was singing, so musicals are where I belong."
Audiences agree. Lee triumphed this summer in a three-city tour of Hello Dolly! but the irrepressible Mrs. Levi is not her dream role: "I always thought Mama Rose (in Gypsy) was my part. I was never a stage mother; in fact, I never really encouraged my son David [Farentino] to be an actor, and I'm happy that he's given it up for the restaurant business. But there are other aspects of Rose's manipulation that I understand. Believe me, I've really analyzed the part. It's too bad they just did it again on Broadway!"
Lee followers will want to tune into CBS on Friday, December 2 for The Knots Landing Reunion: Together Again. "I am not really a fan of these reunion shows, but I was pleasantly surprised," says Lee. "Everyone who should be there is there, and we all had such feelings for each other and were willing to share a real sense of emotion. This one is something special."
Having played a sexual abuse victim and a devious novelist in his previous Off-Broadway outings, Pablo Schreiber has moved on to an even more challenging role: the unusually serious five-year-old Larry in Noah Haidle's dark comedy Mr. Marmalade. "It's been an interesting process trying to find how much I can do and can't do," says the actor, "because I want to make sure Larry is a real-live person, not a caricature. He's smart, a little jaded -- okay, he's already attempted suicide. And that sense of disassociation is what interested me about the part, because usually the picture of childhood that we get on stage is carefree and happy-go-lucky."
Schreiber admits that the latter description applies to his early years. "I had this kind of ideal childhood growing up in the Canadian Rockies with my great parents," he says. "But we've all been lonely, and I can draw on that. Also, I'm letting my haircut do a lot of the work." Bad hair days aside, doing the show has its plusses. For one thing, Schreiber is working with former Six Feet Under star Michael C. Hall, who plays the title character. Somewhat surprisingly, the two had never met before, even though Schreiber co-starred in another HBO series (The Wire) and Hall had shared the stage with his half-brother, Liev Schreiber. "He is one of the most gracious and kind people you will ever meet, " Pablo says of Michael, "and we all really appreciat the energy he's brought to the show."
Appearing onstage at the Marquis Theater as the title character in The Woman in White is a double homecoming for Angela Christian. Not only has she returned to New York after performing the show in London for a year, but Christian spent two years at the Marquis as Miss Dorothy in Thoroughly Modern Millie. "I can't believe I'm in the same dressing room," she says with a laugh. "I tried to get two others, but it didn't happen, so I guess this was meant to be. The first time I stepped on stage for a rehearsal, I started laughing, because where there used to be pink and yellow there is now fog and gloom -- and I found that funny! I'm even working with the same crew that we had for Millie. They keep calling me Miss Dorothy. In a way, it's all very comforting."
The show is based on a Wilkie Collins novel that's far more popular in England than here in the States. Says Christian, "I read it for the first time right before our London rehearsals, while on a trip to Australia, and it's phenomenal. But I haven't looked it at since. They changed the book in some ways, which they had to -- but they took out a lot of what made it poignant, and I find that frustrating. So I think it's a good thing that most Americans are coming to the show fresh."
Much of show's cast is the same as in London -- including Maria Friedman, Michael Ball, and Jill Paice -- yet there have been some changes in other personnel. "We miss the British ensemble a lot, but I think Trevor [Nunn, the director] has really re-cast the show with the best people and allowed them to make their parts their own," Christian remarks. "Ron Bohmer can be very vicious in his part -- I love it when he is! -- and Adam Brazier is such a gentle spirit that you know why my character feels safe when he's around."
Tony Award winners Mike Nichols, Barbara Cook, and Phyllis Newman cheered on pop music legend Elvis Costello at the Brilliant Mistake benefit on October 31; Douglas Sills took in Sweeney Todd on November 3; Tony-winning costume designer Susan Hilferty joined the ovation for the brilliant NYU production of Intimate Apparel on November 4; The Public Theater's artistic director, Oskar Eustis, checked out The Winter's Tale at BAM on November 6, the same afternoon that Oscar winner Denzel Washington visited the Second Stage revival of A Soldier's Play, in which he originally starred Off-Broadway; and a cocktail party celebrating the 50th anniversary of the merger of Actors' Equity Association and Chorus Equity, held at the American Airlines Theater on November 7, drew such troupers as Michael Berresse, Harvey Evans, Jennifer Gambatese, Lee Roy Reams, Equity president Patrick Quinn and executive director Alan Eisenberg, and the youngest-ever winner of the famed Gypsy Robe: 12-year-old Brynn Williams from the cast of In My Life.