By Myra Chanin


The first time I heard Barbara Ann Malley sing was at the March 27th performance of Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway at Don’t Tell Mama, its home base. That evening left me with an enhanced respect for the song-writing team of Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields, who had supplied the words and music for one of the three detailed musicals, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which had been my favorite book when I was an adolescent. The novel tells the story of Peggy Nolan, an impoverished but aspirational adolescent girl living with her extended family – all Irish Catholic — in Williamsburg, Brooklyn during the first two decades of the 20th century. Peggy’s Aunt Sissy who was an unrepentant sinner, was portrayed by Barbara Ann Malley, who displayed such delicious innocence when she sang “He Had Refinement,”


He had such respect and feelings all our married life

Just the thought that he might hurt me cut ‘im like a knife

And so he never told me that he had another wife

He had refinement


To put it simply, she completely blew me away.

When I read that Ms. Malley was doing another one-woman show, I wanted to see it. She’d done six shows and one of them called “Eat! Drink! Be Merry,” directed by Jay Rogers with Ricky Ritzel handling the music, had won her a 2016 MAC award.

The new one, From Brooklyn to Broadway and Back Again, was a musical look at one woman’s “retirement to the world of cabaret and on-camera commercials.” In her accompanying herstory, she takes you along on the journey that was and is her life.

At 21 she became a nun, and remained one for 12 years, finally leaving the convent to work as a teacher for 20 years and then for 20 more years became a psychologist in private practice. She also got married to a former priest, a marriage which lasted for 10 years and finally ended with a formal separation.

When she moved back to Manhattan she began studying with Collette who taught cabaret and then acting at the HB Studio which she very much enjoyed. She’s been described as confident, delivering each song in a pleasing sturdy alto voice and an old school entertainer. She’s now in her mid-eighties and gives an audience everything she’s got.

Her journey from Brooklyn to Broadway and Back Again is accompanied by the story of her life, but not in linear order. I prefer the classic “once upon a time,” approach but her weaving of important events in her life was interesting but slightly harder to follow. She was stingy on details. I would have liked to know why she became a nun and then why she left the convent and many other details of her journey.

Her song list was personal and ran the gamut from “Barbara Ann,” which she once thought belonged to her, to a happy Jimmy Durante favorite, a Steven Schwartz tune and one by Stephen Sondheim followed by songs by David Yazbek, Peter Nero, Jimmy McHugh, Arthur Schwartz, Hoagy Carmichael, Henry Mancini, Cy Coleman and Jule Styne – an impressive selection – followed by a Brooklyn medley. She has a limited vocal range but unlimited emotions. David Gaines wrote her glorious arrangements and Director Jay Rogers helped her deliver a show that had the audience cheering and applauding, eating out of her hand.

I think she is at her best in sweet, nostalgic ballads, like her wonderful singing of “As Time Goes By,” in which her thoughtful approach accentuated the emotions and memories and the chart was perfect for her vocal range.