by Joe Regan Jr.
On April 2 Vivian Reed exploded on to the stage of the Metropolitan Room with a jazz medley of “Just One Of Those Things,” Almost Like Being In Love,” and “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” flashing her amazing legs at the men in the front rows and rocking with her great musicians, William Foster McDaniel (pianist, conductor) Gary Foot (bass) and Damon Duewhite (drums, percussion). Without pause, she rocked into Peggy Lee’s “I Love Being Here With You,” changing some names in the lyrics and making them appropriate to the Metropolitan Room.
Noticing a lot of the senior citizens in the house she told us why she knew all the lyrics to the old standards. Her mentor, Honi Cole, told her years ago to learn the standards.
McDaniel played an instrumental of “Windmills of My Mind,” which led into a solid mix of “My Funny Valentine” and “In A Sentimental Mood.” Karen Poleshuck, her first guest artist, came up on the stage and played a soulful cello on these and all following numbers.
Reed told us about how she loved watching the gospel TV channel because it was full of truth from the Bible, and her boyfriend responded with the great lyrics of “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”
When she decided to do the road tour after a long run in the Broadway version (for which she was nominated for a Tony) of Bubbling Brown Sugar, a friend warned her about a co-star who would hit on her husband. When that co-star started hitting on the man with Reed, she belted out “You Can Have My Husband” (Dorothy LaBostrie) which followed up with the lyrics “but keep your hands off my man”!
Her second guest star was Janinah Burnett, who was the first Black Mimi in La Bohème at the Met. Together, they sang one of Reed’s signature songs, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” with both their voices sailing into the high soprano stratosphere. It was a dynamic moment and brought the audience to their feet yelling “Bravi!”
Reed’s muted version of Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind” began with only McDaniel on the piano. Her rendition was heart-breaking.
Her third guest star was opera singer Raun Ruffin who had been cheering from one of the booths. On stage they dueted on McDaniel’s “Bluer Than You,” which became a challenge duet. Reed won!
Reed talked about stopping singing when she was taking care of her mother’s failing health. One of the last things her mother told her was never to stop singing and to believe in herself. Reed’s version of “Believe In Yourself” from The Wiz was another of the quiet moments in the act and the audience was hushed listening to her soulful singing.
Reed rocked back into outer space with a match of “Up Where We Belong” and “Higher and Higher,” giving each musician, including Poleshuck, hot solos.
She discussed the many years she lived in Paris and how honored she was to appear in Edith Piaf’s Centennial Celebration at Town Hall in December 2015. In perfect French she sang Piaf’s “Mon Dieu,” following it with an English version of the lyrics with all the Little Sparrow gestures.
Going into the audience and singing without a mic, Reed tenderly sang “More,“ the Academy Award winning song from Mondo Cane, embracing many of the men and women at the tables. Needless to say, everyone stood up and demanded more. So Reid’s encore, with lots of special lyrics, was “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Vivian Reed is a human dynamo who can sing pop, blues, rock and roll, and gospel. To attend one of her shows is like attending a rousing gospel revival and you can’t help but join her in her call outs.
An Evening With Vivian Reed: Standards and More repeats at the Metropolitan Room Monday, May 23 at 7 PM, Friday, June 17 at 9:30 PM, and Thursday, July 21 at 7 PM. Reservations are strongly recommended. Visit www.MetropolitanRoom.com or call 212-206-0440.
Performance Photos: C B Kirby