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BWW Reviews: Singer Joan Ryan Blows the Roof Off the Federal

Singer/actress Joan Ryan made a rare appearance with a brand new show An Evening with Joan Ryan at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal on Sunday, July 28 prior to a cross country tour which includes 54 Below in New York. This lady, who has an entire comedic medley labeling herself a belta-holic, remains a consummate vocalist, one of the best there is. She possesses an incredibly powerful range, has a glowing personality that will not quit, and knows how to work a cabaret room, literally from back to front, side to side with superior direction from Andrew MacBean.

She's accessible, a quality so important for a singer, and yet so few newbees understand what that means. Ryan's is like a master class on how to sing cabaret, and all singers could profit from the experience she unintentionally provides. She simply sings from the heart. If we could just wrap her up to keep close by...well, there's her fab CD, Joan Ryan, which will have to suffice.

Backing Ryan was brilliant Todd Schroeder at the piano, and Robert Kyle on sax and flute, Tony Mandracchia on guitar and Tim Christensen on bass. The evening offered a casual stroll through Ryan's life and career origins, auditions, roles and personal glimpses of her parents, meeting her husband Howard and her daughters, with an emphasis on the latter and when, as a mother, to let go. Musical highlights included: her great entrance from the rear of the room with "Edge of Glory" followed by "Journey to the Past" onstage. There followed a gorgeous rendition of "Why Can't I Forget?" and then the down home reliable "Lucky Old Sun" dedicated to her father, which she used to sing with him as a little girl. Of course, she featured the beautifully arranged "Shall We Dance?" from her award-winning CD, the lead song from her show Ruthless, and two favorites "Move On" by Stephen Sondheim and Stephen Schwartz' "Meadowlark", which was as great as I have ever heard it. An unforgettable moment came with "Bring Him Home" from Les Mis, which she sang right in the middle of the audience at the bar. Talk about up close and personal! You could feel the emotion, as Ryan told a heartfelt story about not being able to sleep, thinking about a little homeless soul that has made a shelter under a bridge near her home.

From her career highlights, the aforementioned medley about being a belta-holic stood out with comic gems sparkling all over it. She sang her first failed LA audition of "C'Mon, Get Happy!" in the key of C, "Glitter and Be Gay" from Candide, where her voice went up an octave or two, and then "At the Ballet" from A Chorus Line, where it hit E natural, and a final "Rockaybe Baby" which she sang to her daughter as a lullaby - "My daughter's going to need a lot of therapy!" She concluded the medley with the glorious "Not with Trumpets" from Anyone Can Whistle. Her encore "Feels Like Home" was so well received with a standing ovation, that Ryan did a very unusual second encore "On a Clear Day".

Joan Ryan is truly magnificent. I sincerely hope that Broadway Records will record her show when it gets to 54 Below. Her dynamics as a singer deserve to be shared with the world. Every song she sings is a three act play, and it goes to prove what I have always said, that a great singer is first and foremost a great actress. Joan Ryan has both talents in spades.

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