BWW Review: ALICE RIPLEY at The Laurie Beechman Theater
As it turns out, "whatever Alice Ripley wants to do" is pretty fantastic. Ripley has an iconic warble, and an incomparable knack for expressing emotion in song. This was a popup show, and the fact that Ripley was able to pull together enough people to fill the Beechman's spacious-yet-intimate theater on such short notice speaks volumes to her reputation as a performer. Seeing her live is a must for any fan of her work.
Though I love her in Side Show and Next to Normal, I didn't know before the show that Ripley also writes her own songs. She does another show with her band RIPLEY that consists of only songs she's written, but tonight she was doing a mix of her own songs and classics written by other people.
Ripley's songs strike a range as wide as her own, from power ballads like "Miss America" to the hauntingly sad. The songs were better than I expected - I didn't know that she's been writing songs for well over a decade. Some of them are outstanding. "Beautiful Eyes," a pop-punkish anthem, is a knockout. It definitely didn't hurt that they were performed by Ripley, who I think would be magnetizing singing anything at all.
The lyrics don't all make a lot of sense - she quipped that Seth Rudetsky once begged her to tell him what "Beautiful Eyes" meant. "If you see [him], tell him I don't know." (She does a spot on Rudetsky impression, by the way.) However, her voice is so captivating, she imbues them with meaning.
There was an especially lovely song written by her pianist Christopher Schelling, "Tiny Kingdom," which they dueted together. It has a lovely intricate melody. Ripley promised that they'd record it, and other songs by Schelling, for an upcoming album at some point.
Between songs, Ripley was bouncy and happy, totally at odds with the tortured roles she usually gets cast in on Broadway. Her patter was wry and silly, not taking herself overly seriously. She noted that she'd worn a skintight 70s-esque outfit because her side ponytail reminded her of a character from Three's Company, so she had to dress in that style to match.
Though Ripley only chose to do a few songs written by other songwriters, they were all knockout performances. She gave a powerhouse rendition of James Taylor's "Millwork" from Working, which is a favorite of mine, and plays well to Ripley's talent for conveying a mix of wistful longing and quiet anger. She brought the house down with her signature "I Miss the Mountains" from Next to Normal, as well as "As If We Never Said Goodbye" from Sunset Boulevard, in which she recently finished a run as Norma Desmond at the North Shore Music Theatre. She noted that when she was in the original Broadway production, she'd been waiting for the time she'd be able to play the part, and the start of her "Norma Desmond years" had finally come.
Photo by Helane Blumfield