Meet Metrostar winner T. Oliver Reid
After an established career playing ensemble parts in nine Broadway musicals, what is the next career move for an actor at the crossroads of turning forty? Movies? Television?
In the case of T. Oliver Reid, at the urging of a cabaret producer, the decision was to compete in last summer's third MetroStar Challenge at New York's Metropolitan Room. The eight-week contest started with over fifty contestants of all different ages and backgrounds.
In the end, Reid was the last one standing. Winning the competition gave him an all-expenses-paid, five-night engagement at the renowned club starting February 10th. The win also gives him a much-needed boost in publicity, a necessity in the grueling world of nightclub singing.
The win also brought Reid opportunities for wider exposure, such as a primetime spot in last fall’s Cabaret Convention at Lincoln Center.
After his appearance there, Stephen Holden of the New York Times singled him out as an "exceptional rising talent" in which "the wistfulness of his tone and the smoothness of his delivery were all his own."
Responding to that notice, Reid (the "T. Oliver" moniker came about because there is already an actor named Tim Reid and Oliver Reid sounds like the late British actor), who hails from Gastonia, North Carolina, just outside of Charlotte, said, "It was kind of surreal. I was auditioning for a new musical at the time and I just wanted my name mentioned in the press so I could show the producers and they would understand what I was doing."
Reid further recalled, "Before I went on, Rick from the Mabel Mercer Foundation told me to take a breath and take in the moment. I did. I was ultimately blown away and very happy with the result."
Hooked at the age of 8
Reid, the youngest of four children, comes from a family of educators and creative people. "My grandmother played piano and my mother wanted to be a country singer," he said.
Living near Charlotte afforded him opportunities to see many shows that were coming through. The first was "Annie" when he was eight years old. He was hooked.
At nine, a guidance counselor recommended he audition for "Shenandoah" and he got it. "After that, I did every show until I graduated high school, including musicals every summer," Reid said.
Despite all that, Reid originally planned to study architecture at Washington University in St. Louis. Fate had something else in store.
"I had auditioned for North Carolina School of the Arts and ended up winning a scholarship," Reid said. There, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Music, concentrating on Vocal Performance.
However, Reid acknowledges getting a lot more out of his education at NCSA. "I got to do a lot of things other students couldn’t do," he said. "The dance teachers saw I had a facility for it, so they fit me into the dance classes. That gave me more of a musical theater education outside of classical voice training."
Mere days after his college graduation, Reid auditioned and won a role in a tour of "Once on This Island." This necessitated his getting an apartment in Chicago, while occasionally traveling to New York for auditions.
When the tour finished, he moved to New York and went through the usual rounds of open calls and temp jobs. On particular morning, he recalled, "It was snowing out and I realized I needed to get my Equity card so I didn’t have to go through this anymore."
With that determination, he soon gained employment with the Sacramento Music Circus in 1996, which got him the card. A tour of "Chicago" and a rock musical of "Romeo and Juliet" soon followed, and then "Kiss Me Kate"-which Reid describes as "my first official Broadway show."
"This business is talent-based, but it’s also about being in the right place at the right time, and who you’ve worked with before," Reid said. "One job leads to another." Indeed, several more Broadway shows followed over the years. He is currently in "Mary Poppins."
Brought the house down
Even with all of his performance experience, Reid acknowledged the daunting task of the weekly contest last summer. "When I audition, I do the same four or five songs all the time. After the first couple weeks of the contest, those were out the window," he said. "I needed new songs and needed to try new things with them."
Although his vocal prowess was uniformly praised by the judges every week, his connection to his audience in such an intimate setting (always a challenge for those coming from the Broadway stage) was sometimes questioned. Then, in the next to last week, Reid took to the stage and spoke from the heart, revealing that it was his fortieth birthday. He seemed to cast off the self-control and brought the house down with his performance. Many in the audience realized that, whatever happened the following week, Reid probably won the contest that night.
"I felt like I was in a rut and caught up in a lot of stress," Reid admitted. "I was getting a little more relaxed every week and it was a culmination of letting what the judges were telling me sink in. There was a happiness of letting go that week."
Reid has timed his nightclub debut to coincide with Valentine’s Day and he calls his show "This Love I Know." He promises to sing some of his favorite love songs, from composers such as Arlen, Kern, Rodger and Hart, the Bergmans, Porter, and Coward, among others.
Reid, who is also openly gay, laughs when asked about the beefcake photos of him that can be found. "Why shouldn’t there be a sexy cabaret singer hanging on someone’s wall?" Turning serious, he advised, "This business is also about what you are wearing, the color of your hair-it’s the total package. So I’m beginning to integrate all of those parts of me."
Contemplating his next career step, Reid sighed. "You think you can’t do eight shows a week anymore, and then you run into a kid who is so thrilled to have seen ’Mary Poppins.’"
"It’s a lot to undertake," he said of the cabaret act. "To expect the audience to come in for an hour and have the time of their life. You have to figure out the songs and the order to put them in, and make sure the lyrics are perfectly understood and make sense."
"I don’t overlook the small things," he noted. "I’m the kind of person who can walk into a room and automatically see how many light bulbs are missing."
Still, Reid is savoring the moment. "I’m not looking to do anything else right now. I want to be onstage by myself, interpreting the Great American Songbook."
T. Oliver Reid appears at the Metropolitan Room for five consecutive nights, February 10th-14th. Go to www.metropolitanroom.com for more details on times and prices. To lern more about the singer, go to www.toliverreid.com.