Ryan Frostig: Higher Love!: A Pop Fantasia on Queer Themes

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Ryan Frostig

Higher Love!: A Pop Fantasia on Queer Themes

The Green Room 42, NYC, June 22, 2022

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Ryan Frostig

When Ryan Frostig made his cabaret debut three years ago at The Duplex, he was an eager, inexperienced young man with great charm and almost too much energy to be contained on one stage. Indeed, he made his entrance running through the audience with a Pride flag attached to his shoulders like a gay comic book champion, or perhaps the champion’s young sidekick. This year, during Pride Week he propelled himself on to the stage at The Green Room 42, and it was immediately apparent that during the shutdown he had done some maturing — quite a bit actually. His energy was more focused, his power was more under control, and his talents were more assured. He still couldn’t stay put on the stage though.

This was distinctly not a standard cabaret show; not even a new version of one. The song list included such modern names (and gay icons) as Carly Rae Jepsen, Annie Lennox, Fiona Apple, and Cher, but the show also had a “book,” a funny, moving, fantastical one. Frostig was guided through a search for identity by two spirits (good? bad? helpful or not? Remained unclear) played by music director/pianist Kyle Branzel and featured-vocalist Natalyee Randall; both of them showed wit and warmth. The story was not totally clear, but its fantasy nature carried it along, as did the very well-fitted-to-the-tale musical numbers.

Frostig exhibited strong stage presence.

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Clad in a tank top and denim jeans, he appeared to be as much rocker as cabaret artist, complete with the raw sexuality that is associated with the former. His dancing through the audience on several occasions and engaging with them made the event a happening. Since the tale he set forth is essentially a road story, his constant movement and dancing tied well into the themes of the production. Of course, the script wasn’t without some amusing self-mockery, such as a beautifully presented “Little Bird” (Annie Lennox), which was presented just because “it was a song about a bird.”

Toward the end of the evening, Randall stepped forward as a motherly truck-stop waitress who served up chocolate chip pancakes and some soulful advice in the song “Proud” (Heather Small/Peter-John Vettese); her room-shaking delivery found power in her stillness. Frostig followed with his own knock-out delivery of the title tune, “Higher Love” (Steve Winwood), which served as the proper climax in a search for self-acceptance and definition.

In addition to his duties as MD, Branzel, who has had a long professional partnership with Frostig, also served as director and showed great skill in both roles.

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The other musicians were bassist Marco Panascia, saxophonist Nicole DeMaio, and drummer Dane Scozzari, as well as back-up vocalists Denise Manning, Jade Litaker, Santiago Murillo, and RB Embleton. They all brought a great deal to the evening, but it was Frostig’s show the whole way. Hopefully he won’t wait another three years to return to the cabaret.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."