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BWW Review: Alice Ripley Turns on the Heat at The Green Room 42

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Tony Award winner, Alice Ripley rocks out.

photo credit Helane Blumfield
photo credit: Helane Blumfield

When I was a young man living in Dallas, I went to see Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which was on tour at the time. Ms. Horne was allergic to the freon in the air conditioning and so it was turned off for her show. It was Texas in September. It was hotter than a tinder box inside the theatre. But no one cared. Lena Horne's amazing artistry made everyone forget about any temporary discomfort. All anyone remembered was how electric she was onstage.

I had a very similar experience tonight. The Green Room 42 was experiencing an air conditioning malfunction. It was a sultry summer night, and that was just inside. But no one cared. Because onstage was one of Broadway's finest, Tony Award winner, Alice Ripley (Next to Normal, Side Show, The Rocky Horror Show.) She gave us 70 minutes of familiar hits, pop standards, and a few surprises. Each song was a finely crafted gem, beautifully sung and superbly acted.

Ms. Ripley's gift as a performer has always been to lead with vulnerability. She doesn't so much sing songs as she inhabits them. There is always a rich inner life going on. She's one of the most authentic performers you're likely to see because she's one of the most authentic humans you're likely to find. She opened in her own unique way, with two pensive ballads by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkie, one being her signature tune, "I Miss the Mountains" from Next to Normal. It was a bold move.

The rest of the evening was made up, as she stated, of songs she's been singing during the pandemic on live streams from her living room. Songs that just feel good to sing. I particularly loved her take on Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces." She sang in her rarely-used low range. It was a very different and beautiful color in her voice. She hit the emotional climax of the evening in two power ballads from the '80s. First, "Against All Odds" by Phil Collins, which she touchingly dedicated to her brother, whom she recently lost. She then knocked the roof off the place with Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is." It was a thrilling reminder that you are, after all, in the presence of one of the all-time great "beltresses."

On Broadway, Ripley is frequently cast in very serious roles. The intense passion of her singing and the depth of subtext in her work seems to peg her for dramas. One of the delights of this show was learning a little-known fact. Alice Ripley is damned funny. Her banter is hysterical and self-deprecating. She feels like that good friend who has no idea she's the coolest person in the room. Her comedic gifts were on display in The Hollies "Bus Stop." She played the song literally, to comment on the creepiness of the lyric in the post "Me Too" world. Someone, please write this woman a comedy!

She was wonderfully supported by Tracy Stark on the piano, who wrote several of the clever arrangements. She also had a wonderfully bantering relationship with her guitarist, Kevin Kuhn, whom she has known since he played in the pit of The Who's Tommy. At the end of the show, they brought the house down with "Pinball Wizard."

The theatre may have been hot, but Alice Ripley raised the Fahrenheit even more. She will be returning to The Green Room 42 in July. It's Broadway-sized entertainment for half the price. Don't miss it!

For more information on Alice Ripley's upcoming projects, visit aliceripley.com. To learn more about Tracy Stark, check out tracystark.com. For upcoming shows at The Green Room 42, go to greenfignyc.com


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