Vivian Reed has one of those enormous voices, where every note has the grit of the blues, a distinctly gospel power and the high drama of pure musical theatre. She also has unstoppable charisma, supremely self-possesed élan and a controlled musicality that finds a purpose for every note – and a note for every purpose – all of which adds up to a performance persona that is truly spellbinding.
In her new cabaret act at 54 Below, Reed pays homage to a major influence on her singing, Lena Horne. Every song but one in the act was sung by Horne at some point in her career, and Reed smartly uses them to dramatize key moments in Horne’s life. Each song interpretation has at least three layers: Horne’s original take on the song is the baseline, which Reed then matches with storytelling and her own unique musical talents.
Reed definitively puts her own stamp on these songs; in particular “Now!” a protest song Comden & Green wrote for her set to the music of Jewish traditional song “Hava Nagila.” Horne’s version is on the polite side of defiant, Reed’s is fiery with outrage, which really brings this odd song to life.
She has a personal link to Horne, as she remembered: “When I was managed by the owner of the Apollo Theater, he asked the Apollo accountant, who happened to be Lena’s uncle, to ask if she had any gowns she no longer needed and could give to a young artist. Well, a huge trunk of beautiful gowns arrived…a generosity I never forgot.” Recommended.
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