Lives of the Party – Lea Michele – Backstage Review
August 18, 2008 – Upright Cabaret, which presents its stellar showcases in L.A., Palm Springs , and other Southland hot spots, staged its latest effort at Mark’s Restaurant in West Hollywood the weekend of Aug. 15-17, and it was a humdinger. It had been announced several weeks ago that vivacious Lea Michele (on right), star of Spring Awakening on Broadway, would make her West Coast cabaret debut during this Upright engagement as a spectacular solo effort. A New Yorker, she’s been in town to play Eponine in the Hollywood Bowl’s recent blockbuster presentation of Les Miserables.
Then, within the past couple of weeks, Upright announced that it had signed John Lloyd Young (left above, with Michele), who fans will instantly remember as the Tony-winning Frankie Valli of Jersey Boys as a special guest during Michele’s weekend at Mark’s. On the Friday opening that I attended, this teaming resulted in an SRO crowd, and the performances of these two supremely talented actor-singers was even more sensational than one might expect. It was one unforgettable evening of entertainment.
The lovely and vocally gifted Michele started the show appropriately, with a smashing rendition of “Life of the Party” from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party. She segued into a quite different and more traditional show-tune that also had a 1920s flair, “Not for the Life of Me” from Thoroughly Modern Millie. She kept a diverse mix of pop-flavored musical theatre songs coming, with selections from Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Jekyll & Hyde, and Merrily We Roll Along.
When the dashing and gracious Young joined her, they sang a smashing duet from Les Miz. Young wowed the crowd on his own in such showstoppers as the Four Seasons’ “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and “Multitudes of Amy,” a cut song from Company, which he confided was his favorite Sondheim song. The evening ended on a sweet note with Michele’s heartrending rendition of “Not While I’m Around” from Sweeney Todd. The show was smashingly directed by the renowned Richard Jay-Alexander, who also directed Michele and Young at the Hollywood Bowl Les Miz. Salutes are likewise due to musical director Ben Toth and the sensational new house band, the Bratt Pack.
Producers Chris Isaacson and Shane Scheel set the bar so high with this magnificent evening, it’s tough to imagine what they will do to top it. But somehow they always manage to have great surprises up their sleeves.
Photos by Tony DiMaio