By Andrew Poretz . . .
The last time we saw Lee Roy Reams, a Broadway star for 40 years, he had the dyed black hair of an older man who was not quite ready for that next chapter. The pandemic seems to have changed that for many. Now, five months short of 80, he’s gone gray, giving him the air of a senior statesman of the theater with nothing left to prove. At Feinstein’s/54 Below tonight, in the first of a two-night stand, Reams somewhat wistfully looked back at his long career in a series of stories and songs, along with some remarkable photos of his life and career on the Feinstein’s monitors.
Reams, casually dressed in an untucked red dress shirt, charcoal pants and loafers, was warmly received by an enthusiastic crowd that included many cabaret and theater luminaries, including David Sabella, Sidney Myer, and the legendary Marilyn Maye, among others. The show took us from Reams’ childhood in Kentucky, through his nightclub and Broadway career, and up to today.
The longtime star, known as much for dancing and choreography as for singing, opened with a “dance medley” of songs with “dance” in the title, such as “I Could Have Danced all Night.” When the lights went out, he sang “Dancing in the Dark,” to great laughter. Reams utilized the medley form throughout the show, putting together songs from Finian’s Rainbow, Sweet Charity and the show he is most associated with, Hello Dolly!
An early teacher of Reams told his mother, “He could make a living doing this.” Such praise gave him the confidence that eventually helped him turn pro. Fun fact: As a small child, he performed as “Little Lee Roy” in the Grand Ole Opry with a young June Carter, before she was married to Johnny Cash. To give the audience an idea of this act, he showed off some yodeling with his very cute rendition of “Y’all Come” (Bill Monroe), which was also a singalong.
A terrific medley of many of the songs from Finian’s Rainbow (Burton Lane/E.Y. Harburg) had Reams alter one title, making “If I’m Not Near the Girl I Love, I Love the Girl I’m Near” into “… I fondle the Boy I’m Near.”
Rita Gardner, the original Girl from “The Fantasticks,” was a surprise guest, and joined Reams for a charming duet on “They Were You” (Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones).
Reams was with his partner, Robert, for fifty years, until his death not long ago. A tremendously touching moment came when Reams sang “If” (David Gates), a song he had learned at Bob’s request. When Steve Ross requested it out of the blue at a Christmas party, Reams knew “Bob was okay.” He sang it beautifully, and one could almost feel Bob’s presence in the room as Reams sang it to him.
There were terrific stories about the dancer and singer Juliet Prowse, with whom Reams had a long and fruitful creative relationship and friendship. Speaking of a time Prowse insisted he share a bed with her in a suite in Las Vegas — “I kissed her goodnight…. We had wonderful conversation” — he revealed that he gave his notice on opening night of Sweet Charity at Prowse’s insistence to return to work with her. A medley of songs from Sweet Charity revealed flashes of the dancer Reams once was, with a few moves here and there. Reams closed this section with a loving rendition of “If I Had You” (Ted Shapiro/Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly) and “It Had to Be You” (Isham Jones/Gus Kahn) dedicated to Juliet Prowse.
Reams’ medley of songs from Hello Dolly! was particularly notable for “Love, Look in My Window,” a song Jerry Herman wrote for Ethel Merman when she finally took on the role originally written for her. Reams has played in many productions of Dolly, and was the first male to play the title role in an American production.
The show ended with sweet stories of Reams’ mother, who was his greatest champion, and a dedication of “The Rose” (Amanda McBroom) with John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” to his mother. It garnered Reams a well-earned standing ovation.
Lee Roy Reams is funny, charming and grateful for his long and storied career in the theater. With the help of Alex Rybeck’s outstanding accompaniment, Reams delivered wonderful entertainment.
Photos: Stephen Sorokoff
Lee Roy Reams – March 10, 2022
Goodbye Kentucky! Hello Broadway!
Music director and accompanist: Alex Rybeck
Special guest: Rita Gardner
Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, NYC