Rian Keating: Woman Songs

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Rian Keating

Woman Songs

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, November 24, 2023

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Rian Keating

Rian Keating is a natural-born storyteller. His tales may be funny or tragic or surprising or just plain human; but they all carry the certainty of truth. He can draw the audience toward him and bring their motions to the surface. In his newest show, Woman Songs, he traced the importance of many women in his life, from grade-school teachers to his mother and grandmother to some delightful fictional women, such as the regretful Miss Otis. The evening was filled with poignancy and love.

The song list was varied; it went from the delicate “Feed the Birds” (though he confessed that Mary Poppins intimidated him as a child) to his mother’s favorite song, “Jean” (Rod McKuen) to such raw work as James Taylor’s “Millworker” and an emotional medley of “Baby in a Box” (Amanda McBroom), “Turn Around” (Harry Belafonte/Malvina Reynolds), and “Tangled Up Puppet” (Harry Chapin). All charted the difficult choices involved in parenthood. The more emotional the material, the more effective Keating’s limited vocal abilities were. The most stirring moment of the evening was not actually a song but a heart-rending poem, The Mother, by Gwendolyn Brooks, which was part of his highly personal tale of his grandmother’s limited choices when she was confronted with an unexpected pregnancy.

Darryl Curry provided grand support as music director and pianist. The fine hand of director Tanya Moberly was evident throughout the show—in its pacing and in its staging (it’s always nice to see a performer use the entire stage and not be tied to a single spot).

It was also evident in its fine arc of the charming stories starting with those of elementary school teachers (and his childhood fascination with a book detailing murders committed by the female of the species) at the beginning of the show to the dark tales of poverty and maternal struggle at its end. Although the director and the performer collaborated to build this fine story arc, it was Keating who took his audience on the journey with his immense warmth and quiet charm.

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."