Alice Ripley and John McDaniel

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Alice Ripley and John McDaniel

The Blue Strawberry, St. Louis, MO, May 24, 2024

Reviewed by James Lindhorst

Alice Ripley and John McDaniel

There was no mistaking that Alice Ripley was in the room. On Friday, Ripley and St. Louis’ John McDaniel brought their cabaret collaboration to Blue Strawberry Showroom and Lounge for the first of two shows. Ripley is called one of the best belters to have performed on Broadway, along with Patti LuPone, Idina Menzel, and Sutton Foster. As she was nearing the end of her set, she spoke of her late best friend from college. In 1983 he brought her a cassette tape of The Baker’s Wife and told her that she needed to hear the recording of LuPone singing “Meadowlark.” It was at that moment that Alice Ripley found her voice.

Over the following decades Ripley originated roles in The Who’s Tommy, Side-Show, and Next to Normal. For the next two hours, Ripley sang the songs she had originated in musicals, the anthems from the national tours in which she’d appeared, and the music of the belters with whom she shared a professional link. She did pay homage to LuPone’s influence with a stunning performance of “Meadowlark” near the end of her set.

Being in the presence of a bona fide Broadway belter in a small club was an experience that won’t soon be forgotten. The intimate space at Blue Strawberry could barely contain the power of Ripley’s enormous voice. She delivered a set list of the most memorable female musical-theater anthems that included “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Losing My Mind,” and “I Miss the Mountains” from her Tony-winning role as Diana in Next to Normal.

Ripley credited her on-stage collaborator John McDaniel with getting her back on the stage. She shared that the Grammy and Emmy-winning composer, music director, arranger, orchestrator, and producer had reached out to her with the idea for their cabaret collaboration. McDaniel shared that he was glad she had said yes. They are currently touring the country with their cabaret show, and have landed in McDaniel’s hometown of St. Louis for two shows.

McDaniel took the stage first and introduced Ripley to the audience, many of whom have been his lifelong friends. He bantered back and forth with Ripley, encouraged her to share specific stories about her stage experiences, accompanied her, and played one of his original songs. Ripley, perched on a barstool beside the piano, admired McDaniel’s solo work with an adoring look. It was apparent that their professional partnership was based on mutual respect and adoration.

McDaniel’s vision for their collaboration, along with his music direction and accompaniment have brought an award-winning musical-theater actor back to the stage after a lengthy hiatus. Their show played directly into the strengths of Ripley’s voice and vocal stylings. She belted for nearly two hours as she and McDaniel graciously gave more of themselves than most artists do in a 90-minute cabaret set.

Ripley and McDaniel played two shows, May 24 and 25, and live entertainment continues at the Blue Strawberry. Details are available at its web site.

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