By Ron Fassler
Alice Ripley, the 2009 Tony Award winner for her fiery performance in the Pulitzer Prize winning Next to Normal, is an actress and singer of vast range and power. At Feinstein’s 54 Below, she showcased her vocal prowess as well as her songwriting abilities, backed up by the aptly named Ripley Band. Consisting of Christopher Schelling (piano) and Kevin Kuhn (guitar), the trio was rounded out by her former Next to Normal castmate and fellow Tony nominee Jennifer Damiano, with whom she co-starred a decade ago. They also later appeared in the 2016 musical version of American Psycho, which helped to make their connection on stage both perfectly in tune and strongly personal.
Ripley ripped through a dozen songs, all of which she composed music and lyrics. This is not a new thing in her career, as she has been recording albums for more than twenty years. There were power ballads, wistful and contemplative songs, and pure rock. The mix was accentuated by her abilities of making vocal noises that approximate certain instruments, which she has a lot of fun with. Of her affinity for sad songs, she quoted a musician who once said that all his songs about how lonely the road is were written because the road is lonely! Her deadpan (and sometimes wicked) humor was used to good effect during her patter between songs.
And what about the songs? Accompanying herself on guitar for a number of them, Ripley was most in her element with those that conveyed a sense of sadness, particularly with “Drive,” written about her dad (she is one of eleven children). Besides a lovely lyric, it had a soaring melody, made evident by a piano interlude that was haunting in its… well, drive. “Beautiful Eyes” allowed for Ripley to let loose with some genuine rock and roll, and “Romeo,” a second to last song that she threw in just because she felt in the mood, proved a wonderful (and seemingly improvisatory) number. Damiano’s presence was somewhat muted, but she was truly there to serve her friend (she had no solo), and the blend of their voices on specific songs was welcome whenever they sang together.
It should be added that the ever-busy Ms. Ripley just finished an off-Broadway limited engagement of a revival of Elise Forier Edie’s solo drama The Pink Unicorn this past weekend, and can be seen in a free concert next week (September 3rd) at Broadway Buskers, located at the Broadway Plaza between 43rd and 44th Streets at 5:00 p.m. And if that weren’t enough, anyone in the vicinity of Beverly, Massachusetts between September 24th and October 5th can see her as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Blvd. presented by the North Shore Music Theatre. Broadway aficionados know only too well that Ms. Ripley created the role of Betty Schaefer in the original 1994 Broadway production.
Photo by Ron Fassler
Alice Ripley and the Ripley Band – Feinstein’s 54 Below, 254 W 54th Street, New York, NY 10019.