T. Oliver Reid: Made in Americana

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by Marilyn Lester


T. Oliver Reid has created one heck of a cabaret show – an intimate, highly personal journey of the American experience through the lens of his own large and wondrous family. But, in the words of that famous Ginsu knife commercial, wait! there’s more! Made in Americana is a far more profound exploration beyond personal reminiscence and love of country. With a beautifully intelligent narrative and an eclectic mix of songs, the show is a subtle but highly astute and effective philosophical, sociological and historical observation of the entire American experience. Key themes of faith, freedom and family are hit home with songs such as the spirituals “Looky Looky Yonder” and “Let Us Break Bread Together,” and “Freedom” (Gary Geld, Peter Udell). Made in Americana reaches beyond Reid’s point of view as an American of color – as powerful and meaningful as that is. Much of what he has to say in word and music reflects the heritage of all of us, no matter what our origins.


All of the arrangements in Made in Americana have been crafted to showcase Reid’s versatility, and are a product of Reid with music director and pianist Brad Simmons. Reid’s entrance at the top of the show was preceded by an easy guitar intro to Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird,” performed by the ever-melodious, creative master of his instrument, Sean Harkness. Harkness provided nuanced backup throughout the set, his guitar a powerful adjunct to Reid’s performance range and finely controlled singing. Skip Ward (Bass) and Dave LeBlanc (Drums) also contributed mightily as side men.




With “American Boy” (Kanye West, Will Adams, Kieth Harris, Josh Lopez, Caleb Speir, Estele Swaray) the journey begins with Reid’s slave ancestor, a remarkable woman who founded a dynasty: “River Deep, Mountain High” (Phil Spector, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich). Through the generations, the music tells the tale of hard work, via the traditional African American work song, “Black Betty,” and love, “I’m On Fire” (Bruce Springsteen). On “Sinnerman (Where You Gonna Run To)” singer and musicians were cooking – perfectly communicating the strength of this extremely powerful traditional spiritual. In 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation changed the lives of all African Americans, freemen and slaves alike: “I Wish I Would Know How It Would Be to Feel Free” (Billy Taylor). A trio of songs, “Simple Gifts” (Joseph Brackett), “Come the Wild, Wild Weather” (Noel Coward) and “It Is Well With My Soul” (Horatio Spafford, Philip Bliss) soulfully express the simple but core values of faith and family.


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Toward the end of Made in Americana, a few bars of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” seem to deliver the ultimate message of the show – the “your” doesn’t define race, color or creed. America belongs to all of us. But wait, there is more. The generations come in to the present with grandparents (and a favorite grandmother) and parents, who might be “Jack and Diane” (John Mellancamp) – to the modern American experience: “Don’t Stop Believin’” (Jonathan Cain, Neal Schon, Steve Perry) and “Might as Well Get Stoned” (Chris Stapleton). Perhaps the only way to end a show entitled Made in Americana is with the ultimate in American songs, written by a Russian Jewish immigrant who loved his adopted country with a grand passion poured into tremendously prolific output: Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” Reid judiciously forewent an encore. How can you beat Berlin, especially when the core of every member of the audience was swelling with pride of origin. Made in Americana is no less than a triumphant statement of inclusivity, an ideal to be ever-striven for.


T. Oliver Reid: Made in Americana, August 17, 2016 at 7 PM

Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, 646-476-3551, www.54below.com


Photos: Maryann Lopinto