It takes a disciplined diva to sacrifice chicken wings for wheat grass. Yet for Vivian Reed, it was the only answer to strong vocal health. As a classically trained singer, Reed found herself singing American Jazz standards after a musical agent discovered her and invited to sing at the world famous Apollo Theater. That led her all the way to Broadway, where the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native made her debut portraying Lena Horne in That’s Entertainment.
Years later however, she discovered that she had acid reflux. She was one call phone call away from reporting her withdrawal from a regional production of 3 ‘Mo Divas when a miracle cure transpired: A friend in L.A. told her about a doctor who suggested fasting and drinking a shot of wheatgrass every day. She placed her recently purchased, delectably tempting chicken wings in the freezer and instead, drank the chlorophyll potion–abstaining from food for a short time. “God almighty! It was putrid and awful,” she said in a recent phone interview, “but my voice started to clear up and it worked!”
After that, she went to a throat specialist and completely overhauled her diet. “Now, I don’t drink orange juice, tomatoes, spicy food, carbonated drinks, citrus, chocolate, or anything acidic,” she said, although she does confess to an occasional cheat when her demanding schedule allows for a break.
Reed will come full circle next month when she takes to the stage at Feinstein’s/54 Below to pay tribute to the real life character from her Broadway debut—Ms. Lena Horne. After producer Daniel Nardicio approached her about doing a show for Horne’s centennial, Reed jumped at it.
It appears to fit the two-time Tony nominated performer like a glove. “For years, Stephen Holden of the NY Times used to draw comparisons between me and Horne,” Reed explained. “He would often compare our ferociousness on stage. Finally, I watched a YouTube video of Horne’s performance and understood why he did that. She was never one to get up and just let something come out of her mouth. There was meaning in her body and voice. I deliver my songs the same way.” Reed doesn’t believe that you need to have a great voice in order to sing. “If you have it, God bless you, but what is even more important is how you deliver the message of the song,” she emphasized. “Make the audience not want to turn from you.”
Since she started singing, her devoted fans have not only turned to her—they also turn out in droves to support this concert and cabaret spitfire who,as a veteran, still has the vim and vigor of a teenager. “If I could be onstage 365 days a year, I would do it! I love connecting to the audience…to make them laugh, cry, and think. This is what I live for!” she exclaimed.
For Reed, the hardest part of performance occurs before she takes to the stage. Since Horne was accustomed to singing so many classics, she had to sift through quite a bit of material. She whittled it down to 14 or 15 songs which will include “Stormy Weather”, “The Lady is a Tramp” ,“A Lady Must Live” ,“Just One of Those Things”, “From This Moment On”, and others.
Next she sat down with her pianist and arranger, William Foster McDaniel. “He braces himself because he knows he’s dealin’ with crazy!” she joked. Reed is cautious not to imitate her subject, but rather to put her own stamp on it. It is advice she took to heart from Bobby Schiffman, one time owner of the Apollo theater. “Don’t ever do a song like they were originally recorded because people will compare you to the original artist,” he told her. “I never forgot that,” she said. She’s also careful not to tamper with melodies because “the composer wrote that melody for a reason,” she said. “Never leave an audience saying ‘God, when is this gonna be over?’ I always want them to feel like they are in my living room.”
Schiffman’s employee–and accountant– for the Apollo happened to be Lena Horne’s uncle. Inspired by Reed’s persona, he asked his niece if she had any clothes she was no longer wearing. Horne donated them. “One day, Bobby called me and told me to come to the theater. When I got there, I found this trunk filled with Lena’s beautiful evening gowns!” she recalled. Years later, Reed would meet the gowns’ original owner. During Horne’s 1981 musical revue, The Lady and Her Music, Reed went backstage to meet the star and express her thanks.
Reed plans to incorporate aspects of Horne’s life into the show, including the pressure she experienced in an inter-racial marriage and her fierce civil rights activism. When asked how Ms. Horne would react to today’s political climate, Reed didn’t hesitate: “She’d be very upset. It’s just so hard to believe that we are in 2017 and all of this stuff is happening,” she said. She added that Horne “was not just an activist for African-Americans. She was out there fighting for everyone.”
Reed’s engagement at Feinstein’s/54 Below will begin on November 8th where she will be introduced by her friend and cabaret legend, KT Sullivan. Her performances continue through December 7th, February 7th, and March 7th 2018.
Maybe without a show in January, the hard-working songstress can finally defrost those chicken wings and open a box of Godiva chocolates?
VIVIAN REED performs at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street). The cover charge ranges from $35-$75 with an additional $25 food and beverage minimum. Tickets and information are available HERE. Tickets on the day of performance after 4:00 are only available by calling (646) 476-3551.