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Lee Roy Reams “Wanted To Be An MGM Star”

By: Alix Cohen

August 16, 2023: Actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, director, and risqué Scheherazade, Lee Roy Reams is the Zelig of musical theater. He seems to have befriended everyone, laughed with most, tamed obstreperous leading ladies and extricated himself from sticky situations with the wily diplomacy of a more graceful Madeleine Albright. Reams has maintained his moral compass and courtly, southern charm, fostered loyalty, and zealously plied his craft.

Lee Roy Reams

By: Alix Cohen

August 16, 2023: Actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, director, and risqué Scheherazade, Lee Roy Reams is the Zelig of musical theater. He seems to have befriended everyone, laughed with most, tamed obstreperous leading ladies and extricated himself from sticky situations with the wily diplomacy of a more graceful Madeleine Albright. Reams has maintained his moral compass and courtly, southern charm, fostered loyalty, and zealously plied his craft.

Mr. and Mrs. Reams didn’t expect a seventh child. “Mom said, ‘I’ve got three boys, three girls, and Lee Roy.’” Having doted on her brother, his mother lavished attention on her son. “I was catered to,” he admits like a grateful cat with cream. “Mom and my sisters came to all my shows. My dad not so much. I was never hurt by it. It was foreign to him.”

Lee Roy Reams in dancing school

“I knew from birth what I was going to do.” Lee Roy signed up at the Jules Stein School of Dance:   Tap, Toe, Ballet, Acrobatic, Ballroom, Personality, Baton, and Culture read the sign. Free tap shoes came with a certain number of classes. He performed his first recital at six and, at ten, was asked to entertain at The Ludlow Kentucky Stag Club. There he sang “Bummin’ Around” dressed as The Little Tramp and danced a hula in drag. “They put me in girl face.” He demonstrates still balletic arms. “Honey, men went wild.” Fifty-two dollars was stuffed into Lee Roy’s bra and skirt. There was no sign of stage fright. He was teased in elementary school, but even then had the equanimity to realize it was “temporary.” 

“I started having sex at six. Next door was a boy my age who took me behind the garage, pulled my pants down and rubbed up against me. It felt good.” Straight cousins followed- experimenting. “We didn’t kiss or climax. It wasn’t emotional. In Kentucky, when you’re not near the girl you love (after the EY Harburg lyric from Finian’s Rainbow), there’s the boy, cow or sheep…I thought if you got a girl pregnant it was bad and you shouldn’t do it with a girl until you were married.” Lee Roy admits to being “horrified” at the description of French kissing. There was, eventually, a virgin for whom he “did missionary work.” He was apparently robust and later invited back. Once was enough.

Mom and his first dachshund

Lee Roy lived at the movies. Never having read Vanity Fair or The New Yorker, sophisticated images and ambition was garnered from popcorn matinees. He performed around town and saved money, but studied typing and shorthand in high school – just in case. “Mom didn’t push me into it.” The entertainer’s only held two civilian jobs in his life, a piping contractor’s secretary (he lasted one month) and a substitute teacher (of which he’s proud). His father took him hunting with older brothers, but mom put her foot down. “I was removed from masculine interaction.” He shrugs. “I don’t think she was aware of my sexual orientation. I was going out with girls.”

Asked to join the Cincinnati Zoo Opera as a 17 year-old, he befriended 14 year-old Suzie Ficker who would become prima ballerina Suzanne Farrell at American Ballet Theatre. They danced in such as Carmen and La Traviata. When he finally got to New York, Lee Roy would go see Suzie dance so regularly that “Mr. B.” – George Balanchine – recognized him as an influence. He tried to bribe the young man into convincing her to marry him, not the dancer with whom she was in love. Had things evolved differently, we might’ve seen Lee Roy at Lincoln Center in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. 

Suzanne Farrell and Lee Roy Reams

He was energetic and ambitious, simultaneously attending both the University of Cincinnati -on savings and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music -on scholarship. Summer 1961, in stock at the James Alex Summer Theater, Lee Roy danced with Rita Moreno – “Heaven, just Heaven” – and Jane Powell, as well as around Dorothy Collins and Dorothy Dandridge. The company performed a musical a week. “I could’ve done two if they’d let me!” Eagerness remains in recollection. He got his Equity card. 

Two elective credits short of graduation, a little creative skirting of rules and an appeal to the dean – “You’ve seen me perform for four years. You have to get me out of here!” – secured undergraduate and master’s degrees followed later, by an honorary doctorate.  When he had saved $500, his professor drove him to New York.

Lee Roy Reams headshot at 21

Lee Roy got a job as a Juliet Prowse back-up dancer at 21. The act was written by John Kander and Fred Ebb then working on Flora the Red Menace, musical directed by Billy Goldenberg, and orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick – all of whom are legends today. Juliet was having an affair with Sal Mineo whom Lee Roy had met earlier on a film. The actor invited him to breakfast in his hotel room. He opened the door in a towel apologetic for running late. Coffee and compliments followed. Then Mineo rose and dropped the terrycloth. “Honey, I’m not f**king the boss’s boyfriend!” Lee Roy said with undoubtable aplomb.

Juliet and Lee Roy would talk. (Everybody talks to Lee Roy.) She told him she was a virgin when Frank Sinatra “got a hold of her” during the filming of Can, Can and that he was a very unsatisfactory lover. (Her phraseology was more colorful.) The 19 year-old had no idea what she was missing until an affair with one of her Las Vegas chorus boys, whereupon she took off Ol’ Blue Eyes’ engagement ring, picked up her dog, and left.

Juliet Prowse and Lee Roy Reams; on The Carol Burnett Show

Next came Sweet Charity (Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields). “I went to the audition in ballet tights because there was nowhere to buy dance pants in Kentucky. (Bob) Fosse thought I was a ballet dancer.” Gwen Verdon liked him. He was hired to dance and play the small role of ‘a Spanish boy’ “because I could roll my r’s.” He demonstrates. By the time Fosse realized Lee Roy’s talent, the young man handed in his notice to rejoin Juliet’s act. The musical paid $125. weekly, Juliet offered $400. “I’m a show whore.” An outraged Fosse couldn’t argue with that. (Lee Roy was in the film.)

Television variety shows were omnipresent. The dancer went to California. He worked on the Danny Kaye, Red Skelton, Dean Martin, and Carol Burnett shows. At the last, there was to be a Jungle Book number. Asked which end of the elephant he wanted to be- “I started to feel like I was on a treadmill.” He quit.

Living in Hollywood, still somewhat naïve, Lee Roy met Scotty Bowers (infamous escort and procurer) at the first all male/gay party he’d attended. Bowers’ manhood was displayed with the cocktails. Years later, Bowers catered a party for Carol Channing and her gay husband. “Honey, that was the night Rock Hudson walked through a door frame in front of me. The handsomest man I’ve seen in my life!” There was, Lee Roy says regretfully, no interaction with Hudson. He remembers learning to deal with his first avocado and artichoke. This is a man who makes lemonade of lemons.

Lower deck front: Professor Paul Rutledge and Lee Roy Reams on The Majestic

On the way back east he was invited to direct, choreograph and play the lead in three shows on Showboat Majestic – an authentic paddle wheel boat. “It got my juices flowing again and inspired me to get back my Broadway goals. I knew I could always get a job.” (Oddly this doesn’t sound like bragging.) He returned to New York and joined The Peter Gennaro Dancers on The Ed Sullivan Show. “It’s going to a party every day. The little man had rhythm in his body. A divine human being.”

With Ethel Merman on The Ed Sullivan Show

While dancing on an Alan King special, Lee Roy found himself cornered by Michael Bennett. “I liked him, but I wasn’t attracted. Still, I appreciated his talent, that energy was appealing.” A situation much like that of Sal Mineo ensued. “The apartment smelled like Brigadoon on weed. Michael was high as a kite and pounced. He choreographed my body. I let him.” They had an affair. Around the same time, Lee Roy met Bob Donahoe who literally introduced himself with an in passing kiss. (Imagine a Nora Ephron film) Bob would become his life partner (50 years, 4 married). They dated, but he held his admirer at arm’s length until…

Lee Roy auditioned for the role of Will Parker in the Lincoln Center production of Oklahoma!. Composer Richard Rodgers cut off his rendition of “Lonely Town.” “Don’t you have a comedy song?” rang from the orchestra. He didn’t. Warned not to sing the composer’s work, he nonetheless delivered a rousing “Kansas City.” “Young man can you dance?” Rodgers demanded. “Yes, sir.” “Show me.” He did. “Young man is there anything you can’t do?” “No sir, there isn’t.” He got the job and never had to read. “I’ll tell you in all honesty, I played Will Parker like Doris Day in Calamity Jane.” His shoulders rise- just a little.

Lee Roy Reams and Margaret Hamilton who played Aunt Ella

Given an opening night ticket, Lee Roy naturally offered it to his lover. Michael whined he couldn’t sit through Oklahoma!. “I love you, I can’t live without you, move in with me, but…” he ruefully imitates Bennett. “I invited Bob.” His suitor rented a limousine. They had a gala evening. Two days later, Michael telephoned and found the door, without malice, politely shut. “Let’s just work together,” Lee Roy said with demonstrable equanimity. “I was never in love with him.”

In 1969, after four months of dating, Bob was invited to his apartment. “He spent two nights and started bringing his clothes. I didn’t want to live with anyone, but I learned to love him… (Pause) I miss him every day.” He describes his partner as “an attractive older man, very kind, smart, much more romantic than me and the most honest person I ever knew. He liked to take control and I liked having him do that. He had a steady job (advertising) and loved show business.” Bob also loved collecting and decorating, habits about which Lee Roy tells me he became fanatic. 

Bob Donahoe and Lee Roy Reams

Eventually the two would together buy an 1890 brownstone on the Upper West Side and turn it into a 19th century showplace. (Their Darien, Connecticut home was sold when Bob died. Possessions are coming out of storage. They sit, ready to be dealt with, on every floor of his home.) Below a dozen paintings by “the Pennsylvania Grandma Moses,” an impressive Rookwood pottery display, and a wall of Bob’s cow collection, beside hundreds of small iron, brass, and china “weiner dogs” (he’s had eight beloved live dachshunds), we’re sitting at a big, heavy, country French table – which of course has a story.

One day at Pierre Deux in the Village, Lee Roy saw exactly what Bob had announced they needed for the dining room. His partner was skeptical. When they finally got down there, the piece had been sold – to their friend Sandy Duncan. “So I called Sandy and said, ‘You c*nt!’ “Who isthis?!’ she exclaimed. I said ‘You c*nt, you stole my table!’ I explained and asked that if she ever decided to get rid of it, she call me first. A few years later, I pick up the phone: ‘Hello, c*nt.  Do you still want the table?’” Lee Roy’s friends often speak his language.

Bob with dachshunds Greta and Gerta and some of their collected toys

Applause

“I auditioned for the part of Duane Fox, the homosexual hairdresser in Applause. He was the first openly gay character on Broadway. (I didn’t play him limp-wristed, just with flair.) My agent warned me I might get typecast. I told him I was a “fu**in’ actor. I really wanted to do it and didn’t get hired. That New Year’s Eve, I was so depressed. Within days, the phone rang. They fired the person they hired and wanted me immediately. I said, ‘not without a signed contract.’ Bob wrote on a pad – take the job, but for six months. The show was a hit. I got my pay increase with the new contract.”

“We were running through a scene. They told me to stand really close to a closet. It went on and on. Finally, I said, ‘When does this character get out of the closet?’ Betty (Bacall) roared. We began a friendship.” The star went out a back door down an alley to the car. Concerned for her safety and ever cavalier, he volunteered to escort her through autograph hounds earning major points and regular rides home. 

Actor Len Cariou tells me that VIPS and royalty were asked back to the star’s dressing room with the show’s principals. When the Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited, Lee Roy came in and was introduced. Shortly thereafter, he left – but three beats later poked his head back in with, “Oh, and Duke, thank you for the knot.” (The Windsor knot!) The door gently closed. ‘Impeccable timing.

Candid photos of Lee Roy Reams and Lauren Bacall

Lee Roy was unhappy to discover he’d be sharing a dressing room with a straight actor. Brandon Maggart was from Tennessee, however, and he found they had a lot in common. The thespians would do three shows together and become lifelong friends. “The only time Betty got mad at me was when I missed my entrance because Brandon was telling me this story about fu**ing his 80 year old landlady. Betty was livid…I learned to swear from Betty Bacall. Boy could she do it!” Lee Roy apologized, dauntlessly reminding the star that he too felt awful. She backed down.

Nine years later, Brandon and Lee Roy were in Potholes at the Cherry Lane Theater. Brandon was going through a rough divorce. He vividly remembers singing a song about a struggling relationship, finding himself on stage frozen and in tears. Lee Roy rushed out with his next, decidedly upbeat number and rescued the situation. “I was sympathetic. He was always falling in love.”

Young Brandon Maggart and Le Roy Reams

Actor Brad Oscar tells me that when his parents (fish out of water) came to visit a Las Vegas production of The Producers, Lee Roy sat for hours regaling them with stories of favorite MGM stars. His mother still talks about it. Actor Susan Powell got off a plane with laryngitis scheduled to audition for Lee Roy in  The Sound of Rogers and Hammerstein. “I walked up to him and showed him a yellow legal pad where I had written: “I HAVE LARYNGITIS. I CANNOT SING FOR 7 DAYS, but I know my part and can whistle it till we open. Please don’t fire me.”  He was sympathetic. They bonded. He’s kind.

“When we flew into Dallas on tour (with Applause), Bob was with us. His clients were at the airport to pick him up. Betty said, ‘Watch this!’ Getting off the plane, she hooked onto Bob’s arm, grabbed and kissed him on the mouth saying, ‘I don’t know how I’m gonna live without you’, then turned to the surprised men with, ‘So nice meeting you.’ We walked off and she said, ‘How’d I do?’ That’s the Betty I knew. We were girlfriends. I always said, I worked with, knew, and loved Lauren Bacall, but when we were alone, she was Betty Perske.”

Anne Baxter and Lee Roy Reams

Ann Baxter was hired to replace Betty. She was a deer in headlights. Lee Roy helped her. “Ann had a backbone like a pioneer woman. From then on we went out together.” At the same time Betty was leaving and Ann taking over, Lee Roy’s mother was dying in Kentucky. He naturally flew home. “I get a call, ‘Is there any way you can get back here? Betty is hysterical. She wants you here for the closing. Ann will not let us bring in any reviewers until you’re back in the show. She’s not gonna open till you’re back.’ I said, ‘My mother is dying.’ My sister said, ‘What do you think mother would say?’

“So I got on a plane. I closed the show, rehearsed Anne the next day, opened with her that night, and made plans to fly back to Kentucky. On my dressing table was an envelope with a round trip ticket and $100 left by Anne. When I insisted on thanking her, she cried.  I got home in time to be there when mom died.”

Lee Roy Reams

Lorelei was a flashback, take-off on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Lee Roy played Henry Spofford, a rich Olympic athlete. “When I showed up in a sport coat the first day, Charles (Carol Channing’s husband) assumed I knew about PR.” The pair would take him along on press junket dinners. “Charles took notes on the critics, then cued her so it looked like she remembered every wife, child, and food preference. I was arm candy.” They toured a year before opening on Broadway. Carol “with a voice range that goes from purr to gurgle…” got the only good review. (Clive Barnes – The New York Times)

First day of rehearsal Lorelei – standing, director Joe Layton

Hello, Dolly!

1978, Carol asked Lee Roy to play Cornelius Hackl in her revival of Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!  Thus began his Dolly saga. Apparently Jerry Herman declared Lee Roy’s was the very voice he heard in his head for the character. “Whether he meant it or not- maybe he said it to everybody- I was so flattered, I can’t tell you.”

Sixteen years later, he directed Carol herself – or “Cairawl”, as Lee Roy says (he does a pretty fair imitation). “The difference with me as a director/choreographer is that I’m an actor. Carol was defensive. She didn’t like the fact I was telling her what to do.” When she originally starred in Dolly on Broadway, one of the chorus boys made her a present of an a script annotated with everything she did. During Lee Roy’s production, Carol was referring to a phone book-sized tome.

“I didn’t want her trying to remember what she did, I wanted to  make a few slight changes. It was like talking to a spoiled child. She was 76 years old. I said, ‘You know Carol, you don’t need a director. What you need is a stage manager to tell you what’s in that script. And it’s not worth our friendship. Be my guest. I won’t do it.’ Jerry (Herman) reassured me everything would be fine. Next morning I go in and she said, ‘Good morning, Herr Director.’ And I said, ‘Good morning Star.’”

Lee Roy Reams, Carol Channing, Florence Lacey (played Irene Malloy) and Jerry Herman- Christmas at Carol’s

“We slowly started getting along. I wanted to redo ‘So Long Dearie.’ ‘I’m going to put you back on the ramp when you leave Horace’, I told her. “Dolly doesn’t go back on the ramp after the ‘Hello, Dolly’ number!” Carol petulantly retorted. (She referred to Dolly in the third person.) “Have you ever thought what that ramp represents?” the director reasoned. “It’s her road back to the human race. That’s where she talks to her dead husband and starts fresh.” The actress learned from audience reaction.

At Carol’s insistence, Lee Roy played Cornelius again in a 1995 revival. He was over 50. He then directed Joanne Worley, Randy Graff, Madeline Kahn, who actually complained she didn’t “do bits,” Nicole Croiselle, “a blonde, French Chita Rivera,” in Paris, and Leslie Uggams, in the role. “He was a great director,” Uggams tells me. “Lee Roy and Lewis (Stadlen, her Horace) made me a better actress….Every place we stopped, my husband and I would schlep to museums and antique shops with Bob and Lee Roy as they called out ‘Look at this!” as if discovering the Holy Grail. I can hear her smile.

Lee Roy finally played Dolly at the Wick Theater in Boca Raton. “She’s an aggressive, masculine woman. I’d also like to play Rose (Gypsy) and Mae Peterson (Bye, Bye Birdie). Jerry (Herman) was onboard as was Michael Stewart’s sister.” (Stewart wrote the book) “It was the first time in America a man played the part. Danny La Rue played Dolly in London but camped it up, so didn’t last. I played it straight.”  Reams’ ability to inhabit those profound emotions of the book scenes is deeply touching and perhaps superior to most performances you’ve seen of the role in that respect… He (also) expertly excavates every comic nook and cranny in the piece…   (Florida Theater On Stage 2015- by Bill Hirschman)

Lee Roy Reams as Dolly Levi

During the run of Applause, Stewart confided to Lee Roy he was writing a book for a musical of 42nd Street based on the 1933 Warner Brothers film. “I told him I’d like to play the Dick Powell role.” When the piece was ready, he was instead asked to audition for the role of Andy Lee, a choreographer.“The casting director thought I was too old for Billy Lawlor.” Bob talked him into going. Lee Roy sang and tap danced. Gower Champion loped down the aisle. “You’re not right for Andy Lee,” he said. “I know.” “You’re right for Billy Lawlor,” he continued. “I know.”

Because of mixed reviews at Kennedy Center, David Merrick postponed the opening. The wily producer then bought out his partners in the guise of protecting them. Ask Lee Roy to tell you the story of why Wanda Richert (playing Peggy Sawyer) became known as “The Breakfast of Champions.” Meddlesome Merrick was not allowed at New York rehearsals, nor, as his dictate, was anyone else. Security saw to it. The cast filled front rows with teddy bears and dolls.

David Merrick and Lee Roy Reams; Gower Champion and Lee Roy Reams

“Gower revealed he had an anemic blood condition and needed a transfusion now and then. Later, we learned it was Waldenstrom’s Disease, cancer of the white blood cells. He seemed in good physical condition and was still a handsome man,” Lee Roy recalls. “My doctors told me I shouldn’t do this show because of stress, but I don’t want to be remembered as a has-been,” Gower told him. Like Lee Roy, he spoke longingly of wanting to have been an MGM star. Opening night, after 15 curtain calls, David Merrick came forward. “This is tragic. Gower Champion died this afternoon.” The audience gasped. Jerry Orbach had the presence of mind to get the curtain brought down. Lee Roy says Gower saw the last full run through. He pauses.

“Our emotions did a re-run and we went to the opening night party. It was a sit down dinner with an orchestra at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Bob Fosse was the first person who greeted me. He said, ‘That son of a bitch! I filmed my own death in All That Jazz and he still had to one up me by doing it opening night.’ We howled.” All the productions Lee Roy directed used Gower’s immutable work. He remained Marge Champion’s friend.

Opening Night

“Our picture was on the front page of newspapers around the world the next day with that captured look of horror on our faces after Merrick’s announcement from the stage. David was criticized for what he did but I don’t agree. He lived up to his legendary reputation and took advantage of the situation.” Lee Roy received Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Nominated for seven Tony Awards, the show won for choreography.  42nd Street broke Hello, Dolly!’s longest Broadway run record.

La Cage aux Folles

Lee Roy’s audition for La Cage aux Folles was such a success, Arthur Laurents said, “I’m not saying IF I do the show with you, I’m saying WHEN I do the show with you.” Unfortunately, they wanted him to go on the road. He loved 42nd Street. “I had a social life and I could sleep home.” Then Keene Curtis left the Broadway production. Lee Roy took over Albin. “I was on the side of a bus!” he says with a wistful grin. “They posted closing notice during rehearsal. I heard several theories…” 

One factor was likely the incursion of the AIDS epidemic. Lee Roy served on an early benefit committee. “No one wanted to be associated with it.” A good friend whose lover died told him that he went back to the baths after –because he still looked good. At her request, Lee Roy visited an AIDS wing at St. Clare’s Hospital to be named after Helen Hayes. “It was devastating.”

Lee Roy Reams as Zaza in La Cage aux Folles

La Cage moved to Paper Mill Playhouse, costumes and scenery intact. Lee Roy acted in it all over the country five years on and off. “I did it playing a character, not because I get a kick out of dressing up as a woman.” He also assumed drag for Victor, Victoria at the PlayhouseIt never hurts to have a dream cast. Lee Roy Reams walks off with the audience’s heart as Toddy…This master comedian made every line count and his final appearance in high drag made a mostly straight, suburban audience blow the place apart with cheers. (John Kendrick – Musicals 101.com)

The Producers

Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks came backstage when Lee Roy was in Applause. He hadn’t met Mel and assumed he’d been anonymous as one of Bancroft’s young dancers on a variety show. “My little Lee Roy!” she gushed to his surprise. Years later, he went to a preview of The Producers, then down the street for dinner. In walked Mel, Anne, Tom and Carolyn Meehan. It was his turn to gush – about the show. “Anne said, ‘Honey, what part do you want in the national tour?’ I said, ‘Ulla.’ She screamed.”

Lee Roy got the call to audition for transvestite, Nazi Roger De Bris, the worst director in New York. He’d had the song “Heil Myself” only a day and didn’t learn it, so asked Mel Brooks if he might perform something in the style of the character. Thoroughly prepared, he sang: I had a dream…a dream about you, Adolph! It’s gonna come true, Adolph!  They think that we’re through, but Adolph! You’ll be swell, you’ll be great. Gonna have the whole world on a plate… (The tune is from Gypsy) He sings it for me, replete with salute. Mel loved it. He got the part. Lee Roy did the first and second national tours, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and closed in New York.

Lee Roy Reams and Mel Brooks

I have the following story about opening night in Fort Lauderdale from Lewis Stadlen, who played Max Bialystock to Lee Roy’s Roger De Bris: “His character has a five minute song entitled `Keep It Gay.’ The entire thing depends on Lee Roy continually turning down my offer to direct the play Springtime for Hitler. For whatever reason, instead of refusing, Lee Roy, looking like a doe in headlights, announced that he WOULD direct the play even though the number depends on him turning it down.” 

“After several attempts at reminding him that he was performing Roger De Bris in The Producers and not Cornelius Hackl in Hello Dolly!, I screamed out the last night line of what was supposed to be a large group number. The end result being that Lee Roy was not only given Florida’s prestigious Carbonell Award, for that very evening, but was lauded the next day in the review as the single actor giving a spontaneous performance. Which only proves that if you love performing as much as Lee Roy, it doesn’t matter what play you think you’re in. Just give him a microphone and he is off to the races……I love the man!”

Lee Roy Reams as Roger De Bris

The multifaceted artist has always performed in cabarets. “I love the intimacy. Doing cabaret made me a better actor and gave me more material for auditions.” When his generation was listening to Elvis Presley, Lee Roy found Ella Fitzgerald, then worked his way through every composer on her album cover as if it was a bibliography. “Marge Champion gave me the best advice: Get rid of the fourth wall and play to the people.” He’s entertained on dozens of cruises all over the world and crisscrossed the country with revues, needlepoint – “Liza Minnelli taught me”- in hand. Current musical director, Alex Rybeck tells me, “Lee Roy ‘takes stage.’ He projects, grabs an audience’s attention… The sly, playful nature of his stories is offset with generosity and genteel nature.”

“In this unenlightened age of sensitivity training—obsession with sexual harassment (as if most of us didn’t get into the theater other than to find romance), Lee Roy remains the same shameless, politically incorrect artist that makes great theater possible.  As we wallow in what hopefully will be a short-lived phase—Lee Roy Reams has never forgotten THE FUNNY PART!” (Actor Lewis Stadlen)

Singing at 54Below

Lee Roy Reams is on the board of the Chita Rivera Awards. He loves to go out and see what’s happening. There are shows he wants to perform – about dancing, his leading ladies, Lauren Bacall, Jerry Herman and an evening of Gershwin. Having hung up his tap shoes -“Leslie Caron was bitter, I’m not. Let the kids take over”- the artist nonetheless vocalizes every day. Regrets? “I never worked with Hal Prince, Stephen Sondheim, Sandy Duncan or Bernadette Peters.” Oh, and a role for which he auditioned and didn’t get- the lead in Phantom of the Opera. Lee Roy was told his personality simply wasn’t dark enough. There are two houses worth of collections he hopes to get through in time to decorate for Christmas.

“Lee Roy Reams… may be a seasoned musical-theater veteran, but in his cabaret act at Rainbow and Stars he seemed as stage-struck as someone just off the bus.”  Stephen  Holden The New York Times 1990. 

This gloriously infectious attitude remains. These are not, by any means, all his credits OR all his stories

All unattributed quotes are Lee Roy Reams
Opening photo by Deborah Templin
All other photos courtesy of Lee Roy Reams