Richard Reams: reflections on musical theatre and community


Samuel Damon

Director of Counseling Services Richard Reams shares his love for musical theatre with a special interest in Stephen Sondheim musicals. Beyond his office, Reams has a library of over 200 musical theatre history books and over 1,000 CDs of original cast recordings.

In 1994, Trinity’s director of Counseling Services asked then-Vice President for Student Affairs Coleen Grissom a question: would it be alright to hire an out psychologist? The answer was yes, and Richard Reams became the first openly gay person in the division of Student Life.

Reams, the current director of Counseling Services, said he was proud to be the first, and since then, he’s been met with acceptance and support from his colleagues at Trinity. Forty-three years ago, however, was a different time.

Sitting in a lounge chair in his office, he reminisced about his last semester of college. Not many people were out, nor was there an extensive LGBTQ+ community that existed with all the identities it supports today. It was 1978 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he had just come out and he was about to attend a gay dance held at the Newman Catholic Student Center.

“I was very nervous,” Reams said. “It was a really positive experience, and it was so meaningful to me to go, ‘Oh, we’re pretty normal.’ And I enjoyed myself. And I met people. Indeed, one person I met, who was the greeter at the door, became a lifelong friend.”

Stuart, the lifelong friend, now works at Duke University, and the two see each other once or twice a year when Reams travels to North Carolina and they catch up over barbecue. At the time, Reams said Stuart’s soft-spokenness and kindness at the door all those years ago made him feel safe like there was a community where he could be himself.

In seminary, another friend ushered Reams into a new world that he would come to love: musical theatre. Claude played him “A Little Priest” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” and to this day, it is still Reams’ favorite musical. While he’s seen almost every Stephen Sondheim musical at least once, he hasn’t stopped there.

“I’ve got a library of over 200 books about musical theater history and performers and creators,” he said, “and over 1,000 CDs of original cast recordings and personality recordings of people like Bernadette Peters and Kristen Chenoweth and the like. It just brings me great joy.”

It’s the creativity, the collaboration, the lyricism and the wordplay that Reams loves about theatre. He also enjoys other arts like dance and music performance, having sung with the Alamo City Men’s Chorale, a gay men’s chorus, for 15 years.

As for musicals, he’s only been in one. When he was in his 20s, he played Jacob Marley’s ghost in “A Christmas Carol” in Barnesville, Georgia while working on a church staff. Reams claims he isn’t much of a soloist, so he tends to stay in the audience.

“For some Sondheim musicals, it’s hard for me not to cry, and I tend to be a crier,” Reams said. “But you know, I can see ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ or ‘Into the Woods,’ which I saw a few weeks ago in Austin, and some of it is just very moving. And sometimes it’s just damn funny.”

Before COVID, Reams saw live theatre at least once a month, often traveling to Austin or Houston to catch a show. Luckily, he said, his partner Francisco shares this passion of his, and he’s hoping that one day soon that rhythm will return.

He just bought a ticket for “Tootsie” when it swings through San Antonio in the spring on its national tour, he said. In his office in the counseling center, a poster of Sondheim hangs framed on the wall — the magical world of musical theatre always beckoning across from his desk.