By Ryan Leeds
You know the type of traditional cabaret that nearly everyone—including seasoned professionals—does? The ones that typically follow a theme, or are filled with traditional American standards? Casual patter is intermittently scattered throughout the show along with autobiographical stories that connect the singer to the song. The tone is light and blended with ballads and up-tempo numbers. By the end, everyone floats out of the room on a wisp of positivity.
The Ripley Prescription is not that kind of show.
Ripley took to the stage dressed in a tastefully retro salmon-colored dress, accompanied by stylish shades. One might have thought that the evening’s theme was summer or beach related. That would’ve been only a nominally accurate assumption. While she may have had the flair of Annette Funicello, she arrived with the fiery fury of Emma Goldman and scorched the audience with a poem.
Her self-written prose was a response to the current events of the last few weeks and was an indictment of our government’s disdain and apathy towards gun control. It was followed by one of the most powerful acapella versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” I’ve ever heard. It was followed by a stirring rendition of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” followed by a country-tinged “Seven Year Ache” by Roseanne Cash.
Ripley then switched gears to classic R&B with a version of “Tell It Like It Is.” The 1966 tune, which appears on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, was written by George Davis and Lee Diamond. Ripley’s musical director and pianist, Brad Simmons, joined her on the number.
As she delved into more personal territory, the Ohio native shared a story about a road trip she had taken to see her father and ailing grandfather. On her way back, she checked into a Days Inn and wrote the song, “Drive” for the occasion (co-written with Bruce Brody). Though the sentiment was obviously heartfelt, the lyrics were somewhat esoteric.
Rufus Wainwright’s “Dinner at Eight” was equally bizarre but bridged the gap between her pop/rock set and the genre for which she is best known. The Tony Award winner has graced the Broadway stage in The Who’s Tommy, Sideshow, Sunset Boulevard, Next to Normal (for which she earned her Tony) and the short-lived American Psycho. Ripley gave her fans what they came to hear. With Simmons, she sang “Too Much in Love to Care” then moved into Norma Desmond’s 11 o’clock number, “As If We Never Said Goodbye” — both from Sunset Boulevard.
The gut-wrenching song about a woman coming to terms with her medicated, bi-polar life, “I Miss the Mountains,” from Next to Normal followed. Towards the end, Ripley delivered a stripped down version of “Pinball Wizard,” where Simmons once again joined her. With longtime friends, she ended the night with the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me?”
Throughout the night, Ripley did several readings from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Why? Because she could. Ripley possesses a spirit of defiance and militancy, but in a way that is magnetic and endearing. She’s the kind of person you’d want marching in the front lines with you against the injustices of the world—and she has more than enough grit and talent to win the war.
Her prescription? Music. Ripley urged the audience to encourage young people to pursue the arts and to find their voice, as her family did for her. Let’s hope that we get more doses of her potent medication. Our infirmed world needs all it can get.