by Matt Smith
Alice Ripley is not your typical Broadway performer. Where most stars hastily scribble their names on a Playbill at stage door, she meticulously signs her John Hancock in bubble letters. Where most stars would typically attend parties at the Plaza, you’ll likely find her rockin’ out in dive bars with her friends from the Hippy Nuts. So, where most stars put together a formulaic nightclub act, it makes sense to think that Ripley Prescription, its namesake’s new cabaret act, which recently played the Green Room 42, would be a departure from the ordinary. Indeed, you’d be right… and it ain’t a bad thing in the slightest.
Clad in the juxtaposing combination of elegant evening gown and fuzzy bathroom slippers, and fully acknowledging this show is “an experiment” in which she plans to “test drive” a variety of diverse material, she hits the stage running and launches into a convoluted conglomeration of pop hits, Broadway standards, original tunes, spoken word poetry, and even a classic scene recitation.
She’s unapologetic in her steadfast ability to, as she sings so defiantly, “forget her foolish pride [and] tell it like it is.”
“Life’s too short to have sorrow / You may be here today and gone tomorrow,” she continues emoting through song. “You might as well get what you want so, go on and live.”
And that’s exactly what she does. Throwing caution to the wind, fully embracing her unmerciful give-no-f*cks attitude, she’s presenting a cabaret that’s constructed exactly the way she wants it to be.
From guitar to percussion to center stage at the mic, Ripley maneuvers through each instrument with an effortless natural ease; coupled with the light and breezy atmosphere she affects and her confident, commanding stage presence, this consummate performer has got us right where she wants us, clasped tightly in the palm of her hand… and we’re so bewilderingly spellbound, we don’t even ask any questions.
Sure, she’s been so many places in her life and times… but she’s fully aware we’re alone with her now, and as a result, there’s a much more personal approach to what she sings and says. She’s divulging her true emotions, and she’s, really and truly, singing these songs for us.
To boot, her stories and anecdotes are just as eclectic as her set list, ranging from annoying her neighbors with her consistent rehearsal, to her undying infatuation with Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber to singing “My Funny Valentine” at her dying grandfather’s bedside. Again, she hones in on the personal aspects, casting fear of vulnerability aside, and becoming increasingly more visibly emotional as she speaks.
Of note, though Ripley is credited as a solo artist on the bill, the evening is just as much a showcase for her pianist, Brad Simmons, who duets with her on several numbers, displays his own talent in the music’s instrumental phrases, and inserts himself judiciously into the patter enough to allow him a title greater than simply “second banana.”
So, though there’s a mutual understanding that she’s unconventional and quirky, her show at times as schizophrenic as her spontaneous mid-show one-woman rendition of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, still, you can’t help but be moved. And, in yet another testament to Ripley’s genius, that emotional reaction creeps up on you, too. You won’t really know why you feel so attached to the lyrics and so emotional as she delivers them… but of course, that’s Ripley’s gift. She’s eccentric in presentation, but clear and assertive in delivering her message… and even more so in expressing the urgency with which we need to address it.
But how does this all tie in to the titular Ripley prescription? After all, with somber songs that touch upon such bleak and dismal topics as heartache, missed opportunity, and ultimate loss and defeat, it seems she’s in a bit of an emotional rut. But, in fact, it’s the very act of singing that helps her cope. She uses it, as she describes, “to heal the broken heart” from which she sings throughout the evening.
With that same defiant militance, she encourages us all to find our own place of restoration — be it either in or out of theatre and the arts. A place to create… a place to find your bliss. As she sang earlier: “Go out and live.” Throw caution to the wind. Confuse and complicate. Don’t apologize. That’s the true Ripley prescription. And, she adds, to the naysayers, with a tip of her dark shades, “Don’t get in their way. Tell them they can do anything. Don’t ever, ever discourage… ‘cause you never know who the next genius might be.”
It may indeed be the next Alice Ripley: someone who embraces her silly side wholeheartedly, someone who inspires with her powerful fighter mentality, and someone who, when given the chance to take her place center stage at the mic, will find herself safe, secure, and finally, “home at last.”
Alice Ripley: Ripley Prescription premiered at the Green Room 42 (570 Tenth Avenue) on February 24th. The concert, featuring Brad Simmons on piano and guest appearances from Tim Champion and Kathena Bryant of the Hippy Nuts, will resurface at Feinstein’s/54 Below later this May.