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William S. Gooch Talks to
Vivian Reed

A Triple Threat and Then Some

What can be said of Vivian Reed, Tony Award-nominated actress and current star of Second Tosca. She’s an actress, a dancer, a photographer and a singer. And man can she sing. This great lady of the stage has pipes!! Whether singing on the concert stage or performing in a play or musical, this doyenne of the theatre always blesses us with her wealth of talent, love and authenticity. The following interview gives a more in-depth look into the life and career of Vivian Reed.

William S. Gooch: Tell me about your experience at Julliard?

Vivian Reed: I sang from the time I was eight, and later I got a scholarship to The Julliard School. Julliard instructors were sticklers for classical singing and nothing else. My third year there, I opened up Showbiz Magazine and saw an audition for Green Pastures. I thought that this would be a good opportunity for me in that is was musical theatre, which I knew nothing about, and it would be good employment over the summer. When my teachers at Julliard found out that I had auditioned for Green Pastures, they called the producers and instructed them not to hire me. I can talk about it now, but for years I couldn’t talk about it. Anyway, the producers offered me the job and I took it. As result of me performing in the production, I got an F in voice at Julliard. Now you have heard me sing, I couldn’t possibly get an F in voice on my worse day. Julliard basically said when I learned to sing I could come back. My parents thought I chose to drop out but that was really not the case. I didn’t tell them the truth for years because they had high hopes I would be the next Leontyne Price.

William S. Gooch: Speaking of opera singers, do you know the opera singer Clamma Dale?

Vivian Reed: We were on Broadway at the same time. She was on Broadway in the Houston Grand Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess. In the mid-70’s, there were seven black shows on Broadway at the same time. It hasn’t been like that since. There was Porgy and Bess, The Wiz, Bubbling Brown Sugar, I Have A Dream, Ain’t Misbehavin, and I can’t remember the others.

William S. Gooch: Now tell me about your dance training.

Vivian Reed: I was doing Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope, which is a Mickey Grant play directed by Vinette Carroll. The show was built around me in Chicago. I was with the show for about seven months and then returned to New York City. Vinette Carroll told me that I moved well naturally but that I should take some dance classes. He also suggested that I take dance classes as a dancer would take class, not as a singer. So, that is what I did. I ended up as one of the dancers in the workshop of Bubbling Brown Sugar and eventually as the dance captain in the show. And that was just after one year of intensive training. I was eventually taking as many as three dance classes a day. I became so proficient that producers from Las Vegas would come to the dance classes and ask the instructors about me. They wanted me in their show. But of course, I was more interested in musical theatre. I studied with Trutti Gasparnetti, Frank Hatchett, Denise Jefferson, Henry Le Tang, Rick Odum and others.

William S. Gooch: Let’s go back. How did you get into Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope?

Vivian Reed: I went to a cattle call (open call) for the show and there were hundreds and hundreds of women. I just finished doing a show in Bermuda and had caught a horrible cold. So I auditioned with this bad cold. Anyway, the producers called and asked me to learn two songs. I went back and sang the two songs and then went back for the call back and got the part. I did the New York show for a while then went to Chicago and Vinette built a different show in Chicago around me. See all the Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope shows were different.

William S. Gooch: Now let’s talk about the role you created in Bubbling Brown Sugar.

Vivian Reed: I created the role of young Irene. Danny Hogan asked me to sing "God Bless the Child." I wasn’t interested in singing that song because it was identified with Billie Holiday. But they insisted, so I said I would sing the song if I could sing my own rendition.

William S. Gooch: What was your special way of singing "God Bless the Child?"

Vivian Reed: When people talk about Bubbling Brown Sugar, they always talk about my rendition of "God Bless the Child." Some jazz enthusiasts took issue with it, but my version of the song is m own personal testimony that God gives us all special gifts that are uniquely ours.

William S. Gooch: So tell me about working in Pierre Cardin’s theatre in Paris.

Vivian Reed: Bubbling Brown Sugar was touring in Europe and Pierre Cardin was at the opening in Paris at the Theatre de Paris. He came backstage after the opening and he was so impressed by my performance that he invited me to come to his theatre, L’Espace, to perform. Later that year I put a show together and I came back and performed three weeks at his theatre. The French equated me with Josephine Baker and later I portrayed Josephine Baker in the French film, Le Rumba. At that time I was compared to Lena Horne and was said to have legs like Cyd Charisse, but French Elle—which I appeared in —said, “Assez assez (enough, enough), she is Vivian Reed.”

William S. Gooch: Now you have appeared in several Broadway shows and most recently Marie Christine with Audra McDonald, what was it like to work with composer John LaChiusa?

Vivian Reed: Marie Christine was really a contemporary opera, not a musical. Because it was called a musical, the audience expected that and not an opera. Either audiences loved it or hated it. I absolutely loved being in it. It was a very sophisticated musical work.

William S. Gooch: What part did you play in Marie Christine?

Vivian Reed: I played Marie Christine’s mother. It was a small, but a very pivotal role.

William S. Gooch: What was it like working with John LaChiusa?

Vivian Reed: Well, I had done the showcase and wasn’t particularly interested in doing the musical. But Graciela Daniele, the choreographer, was working on Marie Christine and asked me to stay with the musical. I had worked with her before and LaChiusa had written that role with me in mind. In that role I am vocally stretched from singing operatically to belting. Anyway, I stayed with the show and it was a wonderful working experience. I think had the piece been called a contemporary opera, Marie Christine would have had another life in opera houses.

William S. Gooch: You have also performed with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, what was that experience like?

Vivian Reed: I portrayed Lena Horne in a ballet called, Indigo in Motion. The ballet consisted of three different parts and I performed in the middle section choreographed by Lynn Taylor-Corbett, who I had worked with before. It was a forty-minute ballet and I had a few solos. I learned so much about Ms. Horne from just performing in that ballet.

William S. Gooch: So you were in the show Three Mo’ Divas, how did that happen?

Vivian Reed: Someone told Marion Jay Cathy, the producer of Three Mo’ Divas, that I was a classically trained singer. I was asked to prepare an Italian aria and something else of my choosing for an audition. Well, I emphatically said no. I told them that I couldn’t just prepare an Italian aria that quickly after singing pop and jazz for all these years. I knew Mr. Cathy because I had worked with him in Cooking at the Cookery, so I called him to see what this was really about. He only wanted me to sing one aria for this production, mixed in with jazz and pop numbers. I knew I could sing the other styles but I wasn’t sure about the aria. I went to Ben Matthews, a voice teacher who had worked with me during my classical singing days. He heard me sing and he said, “Vivian you still got it child, you came out of your mamma’s womb singing. Now let’s work on your breath control.” So, I ended up singing “Pace, pace mio Dio” from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino in Three Mo’ Divas as well as some pop and jazz tunes.

William S. Gooch: What performance idiom to you like the most?

Vivian Reed: Everybody asks me that question. When I am in a concert or a nightclub, I am in my element. But, when I am in a musical, I am home. In essence, I like it all. I love being on the stage.

William S. Gooch: How did you get your role in Second Tosca?

Vivian Reed: I have a friend who is a friend of the playwright, Tom Cowen. He called me up and said, “I know of something that is so you, you don’t even have to act that much.” They sent the script and I loved the part but I want the playwright and the producers to hear me sing. After I read for Second Tosca, I invited the playwright to come and see me in a production of Damn Yankees. I decided to keep the musical key for the role I was singing in the original key, which was way up there, so to speak. My role in Second Tosca was originally all acting, but after hearing me sing they incorporating some classical singing. The playwright always wanted to have in actress who could sing classically, but wasn’t sure he could find an actress who could sing and act. So I helped the playwright realize his original dream.

William S. Gooch: With the musical The Color Purple being a huge commercial and financial success, will that open Broadway up to more African American-themed musicals?

Vivian Reed: That is hard to say. When the The Wiz came to Broadway, and remember we had seven black shows on Broadway at the same time, the other shows on Broadway were not doing well. Those black shows made a lot of money, but since that time we haven’t had a lot of so-called black-themed musicals on Broadway. So, I can’t say if The Color Purple will open doors. I think what is needed is more non-traditional casting on Broadway.

William S. Gooch: What is next for Vivian Reed?

Vivian Reed: I am putting together a show consisting of four performers, two women and two men. I will be holding auditions soon. I am hoping that this show will give an opportunity to performers who are multi-talented but haven’t really had their big break yet. I want to be their big break.

Ms. Reed is also a noted photographer. You can see her work at





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