Comedy Tonight! A Roast of Lee Roy Reams

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Comedy Tonight! A Roast of Lee Roy Reams

54 Below, NYC, April 1, 2014

Reviewed by Alix Cohen

Photos by Maryann Lopinto

Lee Roy Reams

We were welcomed by John Seafakis, the president of Dancers Over Forty, who told us that the organization had started with five people in a coffee shop 30 years ago. If the joy of danving and altruistic community events were all it took to garner new (and younger) members, Dancers would multiply like rabbits. 54 Below was packed tonight. Clearly tickled, honoree Lee Roy Reams was escorted to his seat by two extremely fit, scantily clad men. “That’s the first time he’s seen naked men in 35 years,” quipped host Jim Brochu. An early photo of Reams came up on screen. “Look at that ass. The last time I saw an ass like that, Mary and Joseph were on it.”

Scot Raneri (L), Lee Roy Reams, and Areis Evans
John Seafakis (L) and Jim Brochu

The garrulous Brochua— a terrific host-—explained that tonight was “kind of a light air fry” rather than a roast, because no one wanted to say anything bad about the beloved artist. “I’ll never forget the first time my grandmother took me to see Lee Roy. She had worked with him in the Kirov Ballet under his real name “Ivanbiteyourtitsoff.” This is the man who told George Balanchine to stay in the second row because his dancing was shit; the man who suggested Isadora Duncan use a scarf—”it’ll kill them.” (Duncan died while she was driving in a convertible Bugatti and her scarf got tangled and strangled her.)

Billy Sritch

Billy Stritch met the honoree early on, and he had fond memories of a man he manifestly admired. “I started laughing then and never stopped.” Reams recommended that Stritch add “Nothing to Do but Dance” (Cy Coleman/Christopher Gore from the unproduced Atlantic City) to his repertoire. Stritch learned it for this occasion. A whirling, leaping melody arrived with an exuberant vocal and a cinematic instrumental.

Melissa Errico

Music director Fred Barton was at the piano for Melissa Errico’s lilting “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” (Burton Lane/E.Y. Harburg from Finian’s Rainbow) Errico observed, “He was my first cabaret teacher in [my] ingénue days. Now that I’ve developed some curves…” “Honey, if Jesus had those on the Mount, he wouldn’t have needed loaves and fishes!” Reams interjected. Errico’s charm and warmth were on high beam, and that beautiful voice with its signature deep throat trill was directed affectionately at the honoree. Barton’s arrangement was lush.

Mary Callahan and Rob Schneider

Mary Callahan in a gold turban and cape (aka The Great Karnak named after a Johnny Carson character) telepathically shared the answers to questions that were in sealed envelopes. Producer Rob Schneider solemnly repeated each song-lyric answer belted by Callahan. “But if baby, I’m the bottom, you’re the top” (“You’re the Top” by Cole Porter) was the answer to “What did Charles Loeb say to Carol Channing on their wedding night?” The audience chuckled at the risqué suggestions—fun!

Dick MIller (L) and Alex Rybeck

Dick Miller flew up from Florida with a hand-delivered congratulatory telegram.
Alex Rybeck (who is also Reams’ accompanist) shared some anecdotes about Theater Guild cruises. In one, Reams headed to a Portuguese register with a stack of sweatshirts he bought in Lisbon for his nieces and nephews and then abruptly turned, leaving them on the counter. Apparently he realized his not very worldly relatives would’ve thought they were lesbian apparel.

Penny Fuller, who took over for Lauren Bacall as Margo Channing in the Charles Strouse/Lee Adams Applause, sang “He’s No Longer a Gypsy” with the kind of panache that made her turn in that musical a great success. Reams had played Duane Fox, Channing’s gay hairdresser and friend, and he had prais for Fuller.

In addition to a silent auction, there was public bidding for a dinner with Reams at Sardi’s. Brochu handled the bidding starting, at first, with $25 increments until hot competition between two women ended in détente: two bids of $800 each. Blushing like Laurie in Oklahoma! (remember the picnic basket auction?), the honoree agreed to two dinners.

Judy Kaye

Judy Kaye took the stage shouting “Le Roi!…I can’t roast you, I love you too much.” The multitalented theater mainstay offered “Love Is Here to Stay” (George & Ira Gershwin) with her heart in her voice. It was beautifully rendered and palpably believable. Terry LeBolt was her accompanist.

Pamela Myers met Reams in 1968 when he was working on his master’s degree and directing, choreographing, and starring in three musicals in Vermont. “He’s like my family.” Her deftly animated and mugged “You’re the Top” rang out to the roster of guests with brio.

Laudatory videos were sent by an impersonal Nathan Lane, a sincere Rex Smith, and Richard Kind, who related that after Reams’ audition for Collette, Diana Rigg told him, “I cannot have a leading man prettier than me.” “You make the world prettier and more wonderful,” Kind continued, “and I thank you for that.”

The ever wry Brandon Maggart, who first met Reams as “mama’s little hothouse flower from Covington, Kentucky,” has known him for 50 years. “We talk on the phone all the time, and frankly, I’m sick of you,” he declared smiling. Love travels.

We additionally watched a clip from the Dancers Over Forty hosted by Reams; in it he conscripts Harvey Evans from the audience to flawlessly recreate the jaunty footwork they’d performed 40 years previously. Once a dancer….

The Cast

Lee Roy Reams then thanked the planners of the evening, the participants, “old friends, new faces, old friends with new faces.” The vivacious, self-acknowledged “dancer over 80” performed a medley of songs about dance concocted by him along with MD/accompanist Alex Rybeck. It was bookended by a version of “Gotta Dance” (Arthur Freed/Nacio Herb Brown) that was imbued with glorious memories. Watching the buoyant, youthful entertainer, every dancer—hell, every person in the club—was undoubtedly thinking, “I’ll have what he’s having” (to paraphrase a famous line in When Harry Met Sally.)

A delightful evening of talent and deep admiration offered laughter and an enviable sense of community.

About Dancers Over 40
Dancers Over 40 was created as a not-for-profit organization to provide a community of support in response to the needs of mature dancers, choreographers, and related artists. Our goals include seeking educational opportunities, presenting seminars and panel discussions, and social events geared to topics relevant to mature dancers, whose present-day concerns are focused on their ability to continue to live and work in a creative environment, and continue that legacy to the younger generation about to begin their journey.

Alix Cohen’s Profile of Lee Roy Reams:

Part I:

Part II:

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. John Sefakis

    Thank you for the review, Alix, but please revise if you can. There is no Harry Edmonds. Lee Roy was dancing with the other top dancer of his generation, his pal from Cincinatti, Harvey Evans (check your After Dark magazines for Harvey on the cover in the 70’s!) Thank you, John Sefakis, President, Dancers over 40 (not Forty).

    1. Frank Dain

      The review has been fixed to read Harvey Evans. Thank you.

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