Vivian Reed Sings Lena Horne
Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, November 8, 2017
Reviewed by Ron Forman for Cabaret Scenes
In this, Lena Horne’s centennial year, jazz and blues vocalist Vivian Reed paid a loving and admiration-filled tribute to Horne the vocalist, great beauty, activist, and to her inspirational life story. Reed’s voice is an amazing instrument with astounding power and range, but is never shrill. The show cleverly weaves songs Horne sang into a biographical story. Reed, like Horne, started her professional career as a dancer, and her marvelously kinetic movement on stage enhances her performance. She is backed by a quartet led by musical director William Foster McDaniel on piano. The arrangements are by Ms. Reed, which allowed her to put her own take on them.
Walking through the audience, greeting friends and fans, Reed opened the show with “Old Friend.” She moved on stage for an upbeat and lively “A Wonderful Day Like Today.” After telling how Horne’s mother kept Lena from having any boyfriends up to age 19, she performed a medley of “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)” and a very emotional “The Man I Love.” Frank Sinatra called Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” the saddest of all songs; Reed performed it after describing the circumstances of Horne’s first marriage and its eventual break-up. “A Fine Romance” included a very emotive “hot tomato” and “yesterday’s mashed potatoes” and was used to describe Horne’s meeting with her second husband, Lennie Hayton. The story of their interracial marriage led into “From This Moment On,” with Reed hitting an extraordinary high note for the phrase “riding high.”
Horne was the first African-American performer to sign a long term contract with a major motion picture studio (MGM) and Reed celebrated this with “Now,” which has the melody of the Hebrew song “Hava Nagila,” that left the audience cheering. After describing the pain suffered by Horne following the deaths of Hayton, Billy Strayhorn, and of her son, she performed an extremely emotional “Stormy Weather” that showed off her truly remarkable range, and received a standing ovation from the overflow crowd. She ended by starting “Believe in Yourself” softly, but building to a big climax. Her encore, performed while walking through the audience, was the only song of the evening that Horne had never performed “The Nearness of You.”