Vivian Reed (Photo: Stephen Sorokoff)
By Ryan Leeds
It’s no secret that Vivian Reed is a consummate entertainer. Anyone who has ever watched this two-time Tony nominee and multiple award recipient knows that they are in for a treat when she steps foot onto the stage.
KT Sullivan, artistic director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, shared the same sentiment last Wednesday night at Feinstein’s/54 Below. Sullivan was on hand to introduce Reed’s new show, Vivian Reed Sings Lena Horne. Later, she paid tribute to Reed with the 2017 Mabel Mercer Award, which Reed previously received at the New York Cabaret Convention last month.
Stephen Sondheim’s “Old Friends” set the perfect tone for the evening with lyrics that quickly endeared Reed to her audience:
Most friends fade or they don’t make the grade. New ones are quickly made,
Perfect as long as they’re new. But us, old friends, what’s to discuss, old friends?
Here’s to us! Who’s like us? Damn few!
Indeed. The likes of Reed are few and far between and as an established performer, she’s got many friends—old and new—in her corner. With every note she sang, she immediately captivated the audience like no other singer I can recall in recent memory.
And this was only the first number.
Reed then shared a sweet anecdote about meeting the lady whose music she would sing for the next hour. It was an hour that flew by all too fast, but fortunately, she’ll return to the posh club for monthly engagements in December, February, and March.
“Ms. Lena Horne was 19 years old and had never had a boyfriend,” Reed said before gliding into a gorgeous medley combining “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)” and the Gershwins’ “The Man I Love.”
Like most celebrities, love was equal parts tantalizing and tumultuous for Horne. Reed flawlessly captured the ups and downs of Horne’s personal relationships with “Just One of Those Things,” “A Fine Romance,” “Come Runnin’” and finally, “From This Moment On.”
The night’s most emblematic selection occurred midway through Reed’s act. After describing Horne’s endless activism during the civil rights movement, she delivered, “Now,” a searing song rich with lyrics that—all too tragically—mirror the present moment:
Now is the moment/ Come on We’ve put it off long enough/Now, no more waiting No hesitatin’/ Now, now Come on let’s get some of that stuff/It’s there for you and me/ For every he and she/ Just wanna do what’s right constitutionally.
The slowed down arrangement of “Hava Nagila” literally stopped the show and could have served as the rousing finale.
Luckily, there was more.
After all, a show about Lena Horne would be incomplete without her signature song, “Stormy Weather.” Reed cleared every cloud in the sky with her crystal clear, angelic vocals. Heartbreak never sounded more heavenly.
The forlorn fog lifted with two light-hearted standards from Rodgers and Hart: “The Lady is a Tramp” and “A Lady Must Live.” Much to the amusement of the audience, she playfully teased an unsuspecting audience member on the latter song.
With grit and grace, Reed closed her show with another notable Horne anthem: “Believe In Yourself” from The Wiz.
William Foster McDaniel serves as pianist and musical conductor, deftly handling Reed’s own arrangements, which stem from divine, mystical inspiration. Calvin Jones (bass), Damon Duewhite (drums) and Don Tipton (guitar) are equally worthy of high praise. Yet, fine as they are, the band sometimes overpowered the vocalist. The venue has excellent acoustics, however, and this should easily be tweaked by sound technicians during future performances.
Vivian Reed Sings Lena Horne captured the life and legacy of a much-lauded and often controversial star. With her natural storytelling abilities and extensive Broadway experience, I might suggest that Reed evolve this into a completely staged solo show. Until then, we’ll have the pleasure of her presence at Feinstein’s/54 Below until March. Don’t miss it.
Vivian Reed Sings Lena Horne
254 West 54th Street
Dec 7, Feb 7, and March 7
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or Facebook.