William S. Gooch Talks to
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?
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.
S. Gooch: Speaking of opera singers,
do you know the opera singer Clamma Dale?
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.
S. Gooch: Now tell me about your dance
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.
S. Gooch: Let’s go back. How
did you get into Don’t Bother Me
I Can’t Cope?
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.
S. Gooch: Now let’s talk about
the role you created in Bubbling Brown
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.
S. Gooch: What was your special way
of singing "God Bless the Child?"
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.
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
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?
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
S. Gooch: What part did you play in
Reed: I played Marie Christine’s
mother. It was a small, but a very pivotal
S. Gooch: What was it like working
with John LaChiusa?
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.
S. Gooch: You have also performed with
the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, what was that
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.
S. Gooch: So you were in the show Three
Mo’ Divas, how did that happen?
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
S. Gooch: What performance idiom to
you like the most?
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.
S. Gooch: How did you get your role
in Second Tosca?
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.
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?
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
S. Gooch: What is next for Vivian Reed?
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 vivianreed.com.