Therese Lee: Riding the Bus to the Red Carpet

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Therese Lee

Riding the Bus to the Red Carpet

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, September 17, 2022

Reviewed by Shannon Hunt

Therese Lee
Photo: Kayvon Esmaili

Out of work, broke, and stuck without a car in Los Angeles, Therese Lee found that her luck was finally looking up; she stumbled into a job as an entertainment reporter, interviewing celebrities on the red carpet. But even though she now hobnobbed with the stars at press junkets and movie premieres, they’d head home in their limos while she’d still take the bus in a ball gown like a modern-day Cinderella. That’s the premise behind Riding the Bus to the Red Carpet, her one-woman musical memoir at Don’t Tell Mama, which is now slated for an encore performance October 22.

Lee is a confident storyteller with a knack for comedy that became apparent the minute she takes the stage. In between verses of her opening song, “If You Knew My Story” (Steve Martin/Edie Brickell), she began the tale of her time in L.A., asking us to follow her down what she called “the steep decline into the La Brea Tar Pits of my life.

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Her comic timing and versatility remained center stage throughout the show, particularly in “What’s Going to Happen” (David Yazbek), a fast-paced, tongue-twisting tune from Broadway’s Tootsie. Her high-speed, hilarious portrayal of an agitated actress listing a string of soul-sapping auditions showcased her vocal dexterity and was the funniest point of the night.

The movie-star backdrop allowed for plenty of opportunities to spill the tea and name-drop celebrities, and she did both liberally throughout the show. Her rendition of “The Other Side of the Tracks” (Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh) contained cleverly crafted additional lyrics she had written with her director, Jeff Harnar. In their inspired hands, it became a personalized patter song that skillfully dropped the names of one Hollywood A-lister after another (and many more B and C-listers), thereby making the song her own.

The show mostly followed a formula where she’d dish about a movie or celebrity and then follow that with a song that was (often loosely) related to the story. A tidbit about meeting George Clooney, for example, led right into “He Touched Me” (Milton Schafer/Ira Levin); her anecdote about Carol Channing finding love in her mid 80s led to “Got a Lot of Livin’ to Do” (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams) and her admirable Carol Channing impression.

Her vocals started out somewhat stiff but grew more controlled and relaxed as the show went on; a unique slow-tempo arrangement of “If I Only Had a Brain” (Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg) by her music director Doug Peck showed off her range and crystal-clear voice beautifully.

The show took a more serious turn with “Till It Happens to You” (Diane Warren/Lady Gaga), a song about sexual abuse, which she began after revealing that she herself was a survivor. Her voice here was filled with a powerful intensity, and the audience seemed genuinely moved by her performance.

The show ended on a more upbeat note with the bouncy “One Step” (David Shire/Richard Maltby Jr.

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), and her accompanist Peck joined her for this toe-tapping number.  It was nice to finally hear his voice after watching him at his piano all night, and watching them perform as a pair made me wish there had been more opportunities to see them singing together and interacting during the show.