Dallas — The word of the night: mélange—a mixture or medley. This was T. Oliver Reid’s message to Bath House Cultural Center audience as he settled into the stage on the final night of this year’s Dallas Cabaret Festival. As the evening’s headliner, Reid graced attendees with his critically-acclaimed “Drop Me Off in Harlem,” a musical tour of the popular jazz venues and nightclubs of circa 1934 Manhattan, most notably The Cotton Club, with a sprinkling of various other standards from the American songbook and other Broadway hits.
Reid’s program is amorphous and ever-evolving, with Saturday night serving as a self-described homage to the interpretations of the late Bobby Short, an American cabaret singer and pianist. Opening with Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me,” Reid sets a tone that is lively and engaging, with a demeanor and stage presence that is relaxed, but commanding.
He is classy, charming, and clever with each interpretation, never hesitating to pass a wink or a coy smirk to dazzled onlookers as he serenades. If there’s one thing that is made abundantly clear from the get-go, it is that Reid is entirely in his element. Effortlessly, he works through arrangements, popular and obscure, by many of the well-known composers of the first half of the century such as Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, the Gershwins, and all their ilk.
The night was filled with intimately dynamic moments as a result of Reid’s thoroughly developed vocal abilities. He revives the bygone era with a croon-like authenticity that is endearing and enticing. Whether the tone was playful, like in Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You,” or pensive, such as in Ellington’s “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good),” the singer’s technique is sure and steady, with an extensive range and properly weighted support. His rich, soulful mid-range is warm and lovely, and it blends smoothly into a bright and silvery higher register with a formidable falsetto. Reid tapped into what he referred to as his college training in vocal performance with a countertenor performance of “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess—a stunning thematic detour that earned him a roaring standing ovation.
Reid’s wonderful vocal performance was aptly matched by his partner, Julius Rodriguez, who accompanied him on piano. Currently a student at Julliard, the 19-year-old’s impeccable ability on the keys belies his age, with a nimbleness and familiarity that suggests a life-long relationship with the instrument. His energetic and technically precise solos garnered frequent applause from the audience.
Reid was very much at home on the stage, which sits only inches away from attendees in the sweltering, outdoor, lake-level venue. Though it was clear that the Texas summer heat took the guest vocalist by surprise, it did little to damper the spirit and the energy of the evening, which speaks volumes to the significant cultural of impact of the Cabaret Festival on the local community.
Wrapping up its third year, organizer of the festival Denise Lee spoke graciously and gratefully about the event before performing her own rendition of “Home” from The Wiz to close out the night. With a portion of the festival’s proceeds going to charitable organizations throughout the area, it is clear what makes this a growing weekend of art and culture and an engaging opportunity for the DFW area.