This week Playbill catches up with T. Oliver Reid, who recently succeeded Tony-winning Broadway veteran André De Shields as Hermes in the Tony-winning musical Hadestown at the Walter Kerr Theatre.
Reid, whose Broadway credits also include Once On This Island, Sunset Boulevard, After Midnight, Sister Act, Mary Poppins, The Wedding Singer, Chicago, La Cage aux Folles, Never Gonna Dance, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Follies, and Kiss Me, Kate, is the recipient of Bistro, MAC, Julie Wilson, and Alfred Drake Awards. The actor-director-choreographer is co-founder of Black Theatre Coalition, assistant professor of Musical Theatre at Rider University, and an adjunct professor at Columbia University School of the Arts Grad Acting Program and NYU-Tisch Grad Acting. He has been seen on screen in Inventing Anna, The Sixth Sense, Girls, Ray Donovan, and The Blacklist.
Reid will return to Feinstein’s/54 Below July 24 with That Sunday, That Summer, accompanied by musical director Lawrence Yurman.
Checking In With… Beetlejuice Star Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer
What is your typical day like now?
I don’t know that anything about my days are “typical.” Along with taking over the role of Hermes, I just bought an apartment with my partner, and I continue to lead Black Theatre Coalition as well as gearing up for teaching this fall and working on the creative team of a Broadway play opening this fall.
Morning coffee, make the bed. Moisturize the face. Get dressed and to the gym. Sometimes I do a Zoom at the gym if there’s a meeting scheduled, otherwise it’s just the workout. Check in on how the vocal cords are feeling. The cords are like any other muscle in the body and need an easy warm up before the working of our 2.5 hour show. I do make sure I have a more focused warm up and cool down vocally. Hermes never leaves the stage and never has time for even a sip of water in the second act.
You're following in the footsteps of one of the Broadway greats. What was your reaction when you heard you would be taking over the role of Hermes?
Well, the reason I wanted to do this show was to be able to watch the process of both André De Shields and Patrick Page, two of our most consummate actors. So to be able to take over the role and begin to find my own life inside of Hermes has been a joy. A little daunting at first but definitely filled with joy.
Do you feel you are able to make the part your own? Tell me a bit about your approach to the role.
Yes, definitely. I feel as I’ve been in “rehearsal” for this for a few years as I have covered André since the show went into rehearsals. First thing was to get André's voice out of my head and allow room for my own voice. As fantastic as his Tony Award-winning performance was, I needed to allow my voice, literally and figuratively, to be present.
My approach is to simply live in and with the text…to let that lead me/us nightly. There is a lot of André in the role as it was built on him, but there’s more of me coming forward nightly.
Are there any parts of the role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
The whole show! Hermes tells us that Orpheus could “make you see the way the world could be, in spite of the way that it is…” that hits differently each performance. Whether it’s Ukraine or Buffalo or Uvalde or the MTA, there seems to always be something that has happened that fills the space where our shortcomings as human beings reside. And, until we learn the lessons of what our humanity can be, we will tell the story again.
You've understudied several roles in the musical. What do you think people should know about understudying/standing by that they don't?
It never feels great. :) There’s an expectation (self-inflicted) of giving 100% of what the regularly scheduled actor does plus 100% of myself—to do what is required and also add myself to the performance. It’s sometimes frustrating, especially if you self-notate during the performance, which I do/can do.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
That we are just acknowledging the problems/deficits in our industry. We are not fixed…we are not nearly fixed. The work is just beginning. There’s no going back to before. Organizations like Black Theatre Coalition, which I co-founded, are here to make sure that the work continues.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn't already know?
The ability to compartmentalize is my friend. I allow myself the grace to let things go when I can’t be of service to them…or them to me. Also, self care isn’t just something to google.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Black Theatre Coalition!
Checking In With… Dear Evan Hansen Star Talia Simone Robinson