BWW Interview: JOAN RYAN at The Green Room 42
Joan Ryan has something to sing about. The popular nightclub and concert star's singing career is a never-ending wealth of opportunity, her children are flourishing in their work and their lives, and her husband recently suggested they move their marriage and her career to the East coast for a change of pace. Suffice it to say, Joan Ryan wakes every day, smiling, especially when all of that is dusted with a brand new singing gig that has her more than a little excited.
On March 7th at 9:30 pm, Joan Ryan will debut at The Green Room 42. Ms. Ryan, under the direction of Will Nunziata, in a show that will demonstrate her four-octave range as she sings a little pop music and a lot of Broadway, all in the name of making people feel; this time, though, she is determined to make people laugh. That's what happens when an artist is as happy as Joan Ryan -- they want to spread the joy around.
Fresh off a plane from Los Angeles, where the work still calls her, Joan was generous enough to take a call from a guy interested in hearing about her vocal training and her beaded gowns.
This interview has been edited for space and content.
Joan Ryan! It's Stephen Mosher.
Yay! How are you today?
I'm fine. How was the voiceover audition?
I got it!
Thank you for asking.
Yes, ma'am! That's what I am talking about!
It's actually a looping job. It's called looping, it's the background voices in movies and television. I've been doing that for many moons, but it was nice to get this one cause this is a really good one.
I'm so happy for you. An actor with a job is a beautiful thing.
Yes, I love that!
And you know what? It doesn't come along every day.
No, it does not though. When they do, I'm really happy. It took me a little bit longer to get back, though - I was there on Tuesday morning and then they kept me too long, so I missed my plane. So I took another plane and got in around two in the morning. But that was okay, it was worth it.
Well, you sound well-rested.
(Laughing) Yaaay! I got up and went right over to Will's, like 9:30 the next day for our rehearsal. But that's always so wonderful, exhilarating and not tiring.
Is this your first time working with Will Nunziata?
He's quite a profound director, isn't he?
Oh, he's amazing. And it was pure chance that I even started working with him because I sang in an evening when I first got to town, one of those evenings of my friend Jamie deRoy, and Anthony was in the audience and that's how I met him. Anthony had me sing in their show and then I met Will that way, and Anthony said, "You have to use my brother for your new show." So I met him and we started working together and he's amazing.
And like you just said, this is a brand new show.
Brand new. There are a few songs, but not many, from my old show - this is a whole new concept and a whole new show; I'm very excited about it.
Have you found that, as a singer, there are certain songs that you come to be known by, and if you don't do them in your show, audiences are mad at you?
(Laughing) Well, they do get disappointed. They'll say, "Where was this song? And where was that one?" 'Cause you think, "Oh can I sing that song again?" And I think people that come back and back and back, they expect certain numbers... even though that bird died many times in Meadowlark - well I'm not doing it in this show but I did it for a very long time and they kept wanting to hear it, even though the bird kept dying every time. (Laughing)
I know, you can't count on that bird. Very predictable. It's fun for an artist to get to explore new material. Are you getting to work on a lot of new stuff on this new show?
Yes, it's mostly all new. So that's exciting. And it's funny 'cause we'll work on it for a couple of weeks and then we'll say no and we throw it out, and then sometimes we come back to them and sometimes we don't. It's really interesting to work with Will, who I'm working with for the first time -- his take on me and my talent and what fits and what doesn't fit. It's very exciting to see his take on everything. But there's so much new stuff and it's a little nerve-wracking ... and it's really exciting at the same time.
Does your new show follow a theme or is the theme just music that you want to sing?
There's not really a theme, it's just music that fits. I think the show's going to be very personal but very commercial at the same time. There's a lot more comedy in this one and it's the kind of show where you can be crying one minute and then be totally surprised the next minute - I'm really excited about it. I can't wait to get it up on its feet, and March 7th will be, literally, the very first time we ever do it. We'll find out very quickly what works and what doesn't work.
Because of your ability with ballads, people have come to expect that from you. A lot of people don't know that you're quite a funny girl, aren't you?
You know, it's really funny, when I did Ruthless, the show that I originated in LA, it was really fun, over the top, and I'm known on television and that was for comedy. So it's really fun. And one of the things that Will said was "We need to have more comedy in your show because people are surprised when it's in there." That's why we've come up with some really fun things, I hope
Speaking of Ruthless -- that show has quite a cult following. Do people still want to talk to you about Ruthless?
It is really crazy. Yes, absolutely. And, Will had reminded me the other day that I've been involved in two things that have cult followings -- Ruthless, and because I'm on the album Ruthless has really gone the distance for me, and my very first TV series was Saved by the Bell and that has a cult following. So between the two, it's been really fun to be a part of both those shows.
You have done almost everything in show business. You've done stage, on camera, voiceovers, and nightclubs -- you always come back to the singing. Would you say that music is your first passion?
1,000,000% musicals and singing are without a doubt what I'm the most passionate about. It's funny... when I do television, there's so much sitting around. When I did my very first series, I was shocked because I had come from being the lead in a musical and, going to television, I thought something was wrong because you're only on screen for a couple of minutes. I thought, Wow, it was such a transition for me. I've always said when I'm in rehearsal for a show or my own show or a musical, the time just flies by and I remember who I am when I'm on the stage. That's truly who I am. I don't necessarily feel that in movies and television. If that makes sense.
It absolutely does. You're quite known for having an almost freakish range in your voice. At what point in your life did you realize that you had four octaves?
(Laughing) What's really funny is I always loved to sing. As a kid, that's all I ever did - I would sing. If you would come to my house, I would sit you down and make you listen while I sang for you. But I always had a voice. I always had a natural voice. When I was in my early twenties, I started training and my octaves kept growing and growing. And when I did my very first show, I worked with a director named Michael Chapman - he's a wonderful director, and he said, "Oh, you're a soprano." I said, "I'm not a soprano." And he gave me this song and it was all soprano, just a beautiful classical piece. And he said, "Oh yeah, you're doing this." In that moment I thought, "Wow, I can do this." Then I started training, and I still train to this day, cause I think it's a muscle and it's really easy to lose. I love my singing lessons. I'm kind of strange that way. I've been blessed with two amazing teachers, one on the West Coast and one on the East coast. I just a little something that I think that I have to keep doing, to protect everything.
I know a number of people that, once they reach a certain point in their career, whether it's singing or acting, they stop training. Where did you get the belief in continued study in your craft?
I think because I love to sing so much -- it's really my happy place. When I wasn't working I needed to be doing that. I notice the difference in my voice because it's not just that muscle in your throat, it's all about the strokes in your body. So when I have a show coming up, I train in a lot of different ways. I train physically, I trained vocally... my voice just sounds different when I've been training and I can pick it up faster because it's like working out. If you've been working out, even if you stop and you start again, it comes back pretty quickly.
Do you sing every single day?
Pretty much every single day but I don't warm up every single day. When I'm working on a show, I warm up every single day before rehearsal. I have three daughters and it's crazy 'cause they have phenomenal voices without training - they have these amazing voices that were god-given. So I listen to them sing when I'm back in LA every day, but I pretty much sing every day.
Have your daughters gone into the business as well?
My youngest is an actor and a model, and a singer but that's not what she's choosing to do. I'll never forget, she was about five years old and she said to me, "Mommy I'm going to be a real actress, not musical comedy like you." (Laughing) So she does more film and television, although she has an amazing voice. And my middle daughter is also a musician and her music is very different from mine, it's very electronic and kind of cutting edge for what's out there for 20-year-olds.
What is your favorite kind of music to sing?
For sure, Broadway music. But you know what? I also love contemporary artists. Even in this show, I have some Pink, some Lady Gaga, some Barbara Streisand. My first instinct is Broadway, but I really do love to put my own spin on everything, so if I find a song and the lyrics talk to me, then I'll try to figure out my own way of doing it. But I definitely am listening to Sirius radio in the car. That's my go-to.
Sirius radio is a great learning tool,
How was Carnegie Hall?
Oh my god. That was truly the most phenomenal experience. it was really interesting the way it started. When I decided to move to New York, I said, "I'm going to do a concert at 54 below and I'll invite my friends and that's how I'll get myself on the map, and that'll be wonderful." Then I thought, "Well, I'm going to do it as a benefit" ... for an organization that I'm very close to named Shane's Inspiration - they build playgrounds for kids with disabilities all over the world. I called them and they said, "This is a great idea, but how would you feel about producing and being in an evening at Carnegie Hall?" I said I'd love it, so what happened was I enlisted a bunch of my friends. I called Seth Rudetsky and he helped us get some talent and we honored Chita Rivera, and Ron Abel was our musical director. It was absolutely an extraordinary night and we raised enough money to start the very first playground in New York - so that was amazing. It was a win-win all over the place, it was maybe one of the most exciting nights on the stage ever. There's nothing like it. I don't know if you've ever been on that stage or in the rehearsal hall, but when you go to rehearsal and you walk through that stage door with all the pictures of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli and Lena Horne and just brilliant, brilliant performers. And to know that I got to sing on that stage with all that history was just a profound experience for me.
Yeah, it was very exciting.
With everything that you've already done in show business is there anything you haven't accomplished yet that you're looking forward to?
I'd love to do another musical. It's funny - every time I would come to New York - it was a phenomenon: I came to New York two or three times to live, and every time I would get a job that took me out of town. So this time... it's wonderful... I've had some wonderful success but I'm staying put.
I'd like to see you in an off-Broadway or a Broadway show.
Everybody thinks that I've done it but I haven't done that yet.
Bucket list, baby!
That's definitely next on my bucket list!
Okay. So we're putting it out there.
Right, Stephen? It's out in the world! (Laughing)
It's out. Let's get that done.
You know what's funny? Out in LA, you see I believe in this, I mean I am from California, when I did my very first series... I was in New York in a musical called Angry Housewives, it was a wonderful show, and they did a big article in the LA times and they said "What's next for you?" and I said a tv series. 'Cause I'm a firm believer that if you kind of know where you're headed, then you say, "Okay that's what's next" and then you go. And I'm not kidding, within about three weeks I had my first TV series! So I'm counting on you!
Okay! So I just have one question left before we send this to print and it's a really big one.
Well, I love the sound of that! Amazing.
How did you develop your incredible sense of fashion?
Ooh, what a good question! I love that! Are you referring to something specific?
If a person were to visit your website or take a look at your YouTube page, you are one of the most glamorous women on stage.
Oh my god! Thank you very much!
Where did that come from? Is that all you? Is it something that mom passed down to you?
My mom was really stylish and in my early years on the stage, I gleaned things from everybody that I worked with. And in my early years, I was involved in an ongoing fundraiser called The STAGE Benefit
I have every CD from that benefit series.
Oh my gosh, I'm probably on a lot of them. So we were always dressed by Bob Mackie, so a lot of the gowns were Bob Mackie gowns in all those benefits. And when I did Ruthless, we were dressed by Bob Mackie for that as well. He was so brilliant. I really got my sense of a lot of it by being dressed by him. It's funny, believe me, I agonize before every show and it usually is in the final moments where I find something that I feel good about. So I've yet to figure that out.
I can't wait to see what you wear on March 7th!
Oh, the pressure is on! I'm thinking red, but we don't know yet.
I promise to dress up for you.