Alice Ripley and John McDaniel. Photo courtesy of The Blue Strawberry

There was no mistaking that Alice Ripley was in the room. On Friday May 24th, Ripley and St. Louis’ John McDaniel brought their cabaret collaboration to Blue Strawberry Showroom and Lounge for the first of two shows. Ripley is often mentioned in the company of the best belters to have performed on Broadway, including Patti LuPone, Idina Menzel and Sutton Foster. As she was nearing the end of her set, she spoke of her late college best friend. In 1983 he brought her a cassette tape of “The Baker’s Wife,” telling 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 shared the music she’d originated in musicals, the anthems from the national tours in which she’d performed, and the music of the belters with whom she shares 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 is 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 including “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 reached out to her with the idea for the cabaret collaboration. McDaniel shared that he was glad she said yes. Now, they are 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 upon a barstool piano-side, 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, his music direction, and accompaniment brought an award-winning musical theatre actor back to the stage after a lengthy hiatus. Their show played directly into the strengths of Ripley’s vocal stylings with her massive voice. Ripley belted for two hours while these two artists graciously gave more of themselves than most artists do with a 90-minute cabaret set.

Alice Ripley and John McDaniel played the Blue Strawberry Showroom and Lounge Friday and Saturday, May 24 and 25. Meanwhile, live entertainment continues at the Blue Strawberry, with details available at their web site.

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