There have been quite a few famous crossovers from musical theater to cabaret in recent years. Broadway headliners from Faith Prince to Christine Ebersole to Robert Cucciolli to Linda Eder have taken advantage of their stage celebrity to mount attention-getting cabaret shows, but big stars aren't the only theater people making this difficult transition. William Ryall isn't a household name (not even in many theatermaniacal households) but he is a working actor who has appeared in seven Broadway musicals, six national and international tours, and more than a dozen Off-Broadway and regional shows. In his recent cabaret act 47 Minutes of 47 Years, Ryall told his life story, and this was one of the best-crafted autobiographical shows we've seen in a long while.
Unlike the big stars who have brought their acts to upscale venues like Feinstein's at the Regency and Arci's Place, Ryall opted to perform at cabaret central, Don't Tell Mama. With the skillful Steven Silverstein at the piano as his musical director, Ryall constructed his show around pivotal moments in his life, lending context by playfully quizzing the audience about historical events that took place during those specific years. In each instance, he would sing a song that resonated with the story he told. Time after time, his patter, song selection, and musical performance combined to create emotionally and artistically perfect moments. For example, soon after reaching Broadway for the first time, Rydall explained, he was dumped by his lover; it would be a long time before he would return to Broadway again and a long time between lovers, as well. So he sang "I Wish I Were in Love Again," but he didn't just sing it; he inhabited both the music and the lyric, making us feel his aching emptiness.
Ryall's career and personal life were intricately and satisfyingly interwoven in his act. Whether dealing with death ("Where Do You Start?") or the parenting of a pet ("I'm a Mommy, Too"), he committed to each song with the rigorous discipline of a Broadway veteran. But there was something there beyond craft and technique: This is a man bursting with talent, who has burnished that talent till it fairly glows. Everything about his performance indicated that the man is at home on stage.
We've often said of cabaret that the art form gives entertainers the opportunity to show the full range of their talents. As a character actor appearing in shows like Seussical, High Society, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Ryall doesn't get to show all that he can do. In a cabaret act, however, he can put the whole package that is William Ryall on stage--and he does so with panache. Ryall is presently on tour in the musical Some Like it Hot but we understand he'll be back in New York at some point during the summer and that he intends to remount his show. If so, you'd be wise to catch what may well be the best 47 minutes of cabaret you'll see this summer.