BWW Reviews: Joan Ryan Brings Down the House at Feinstein's at the Nikko
Tucked away in a corner of the Nikko Hotel is Feinstein's - a 140 seat, intimate nightclub with cozy banquettes and tables graced with crystal chandeliers and a stage on which the Steinway holds pride of place. As the 8 o'clock hour approached, smartly dressed San Franciscans along with tourists in casual wear made their way into the hotel, the buzz in the air clearly indicating that they were here to enjoy the best that San Francisco had to offer. And tonight that "best" was powerhouse performer Joan Ryan.
Here in the City by the Bay for a single performance, she wowed the audience from start to finish in her self-titled show Joan Ryan, Live!, written and directed by Andrew MacBean and with musical direction from Todd Schroeder. The actress (stage, television and film) and singer (credits include the musical Ruthless!, the West Coast premiere of Anyone Can Whistle, Footloose, Triumph of Love, Little Shop of Horrors) made her way from the back of the house singing the Lady Gaga hit "The Edge of Glory," giving it her signature style that Broadway fans have come to know and love.
Warm and funny, she shared that she got her start right here at The American Conservatory Theatre and, as for her reason for not coming back sooner, she said she'd been stuck in L.A. traffic for the last 30 years. Wrapping each song around stories from her life, the show featured gems like "Shall We Dance," from the King and I and the poignant "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables. Her huge voice filled the room and I could easily see her playing the Palace or the Hollywood Bowl, yet she was able to make each piece feel intimate without compromising her strength in the least.
And I don't know if the Steven Witkin song "Belt-aholic" was written especially for her, but it might as well have been, so perfect does it showcase her dynamic, 4-octave range. She introduced the song in the familiar AA fashion: Hi, my name is Joan and I'm a belt-aholic....I try and take it one note at a time." But this belt-aholic is a lost cause and that only meant great things for her audience. Talk about a set of pipes! The humorous song brought forth gales of laughter as well as wild applause as she let loose with a string of high Cs, finishing with a high E at the end and bringing down the house in the process.
The audience was also treated to a surprise duet with Ryan's longtime friend Karen Glaser, who long ago was responsible for reawakening Ryan's passion for singing. They did a beautiful rendition of "For Good" by Stephen Schwartz from his musical Wicked. This was followed by "It Will Never Be That Way Again," from Ruthless! In it she laments the loss of her housewife days, but she knows it's her fate is to "star in Broadway shows."
Later the rousing "Danny's All Star Joint" got things shaking before she led us through Sondheim's "Move On" from Sunday in the Park with George. Of course the lyrics tell the tale of the uncertainty of choosing the life of an artist. "I chose, and my world was shaken-so what?/The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not."?At an early age, Joan Ryan chose life on the stage and the choice was not mistaken. If you get the chance to see her perform anywhere, anytime - take it.
Find out where Joan Ryan is performing next by visiting her website at www.Joanryan.com. Photo, courtesy of her website.