Mike Reid is the latest composer to take part in the "Songbook Series" at Joe's Pub, the night spot situated in New York City's Public Theater. At the cabaret since Nov. 8, he will perform again Nov. 22.
Reid begins his show by singing a number of his songs himself. He then invites several friends on stage to give voice to his more theatrical- oriented material. Among his guests are Judy Kuhn, Elizabeth Ward Land and Mike Eldred.
The road that brings Reid to the New York cabaret scene has been a peculiar one. He grew up in a rural setting, taking piano lessons from an early age. But it was not his musical skills, but a football scholarship that got him into Penn State. After playing ball in college, he was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as a defensive tackle and stayed with the team for six years.
Reid had not left music behind, however. "You have these disturbances in your life, roadsigns." mused Reid. "Certainly I was in pain a lot of the time -- cracked vertebrae, cracked ribs. The game itself, the physical nature of it began to make less and less sense to me."
In the late '70s, Reid gave up football and moved to Nashville, where he became one of the town's most dependable songwriters. There, he met Bonnie Raitt, who, at the time, was experiencing a career slump. "She had a time in her career when she was without a record deal," he explained. "A friend of her's gave her a song of mine that she loved." That was "Too Soon to Tell," which ended up on Raitt's Grammy-winning comeback album "Nick of Time." Reid then contributed "I Can't Make You Love Me" to Raitt's follow-up effort, "Luck of the Draw." "You can't plan that," Reid says of his luck. "If a songwriter tries to manipulate the forces, it won't work."
Lately, Reid has been turning his attention to composing musicals. "The excitement of writing for the theatre is that you're writing for emotional circumstances. Songwriters generally write within the parameters of what they can sing and play. In theatre, you have to go beyond your voice and write for your ear."
In the House, a one-act musical he wrote with Sarah Sclesinger [sic], was given a reading last week at New Jersey's McCarter Theater, which commissioned the work. The show concerns a young couple in their 30s, who, while on their way to sign divorce papers, crash their car and are forced to spend the night in an abandoned house. There, they meet the ghosts of a couple that once lived in the house. The McCarter liked it enough to ask the team to develop the piece into a full-length work.
A second work, The Ballad of Little Jo, also written with Sclesinger, will have its premiere in fall 2000 at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Tina Landau will direct. The musical concerns a young woman living in the last century, born to money in the East. After having a child out of wedlock, her father banishes her to the West. But she is robbed on a train bound for San Francisco and thrown off in Idaho. There, through a series of odd occurrences, she come to disguise herself as a man. Finally, she decides to live her entire life that way, going by the name Joe Manahan.
Carving a life out of composing hasn't necessarily been easy for Reid, but it's a life he cherishes. "My most natural talent has been as an athlete," said Reid. "Whatever I've done in music is from loving it and teaching myself."
For information on Reid's appearance at Joe's Pub, call (212) 239-6200.
-- By Robert Simonson