William Ryall
William Ryall
A large percentage of cabaret artists are up-and-coming talents who put on shows in order to hone their craft, so it's quite a thrill to instead see acts by three veterans who understand the nature of this intimate art form and know how to put their performing skills to good use.

William Ryall, who is presently in the ensemble of the Broadway hit Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, commands the stage in his autobiographical show Flying Cars and Falling Chandeliers! at Danny's Skylight Room. Not only is the show well-written and sung exquisitely, but Ryall has the advantage of having lived an adventurous life in the theater that's worth the telling. (His Broadway credits include Grand Hotel, Me and My Girl, and the role of the Grinch in Seussical.) Musical director Steven Silverstein notably contributes to the proceedings, while director Timothy Herman adds spark and sparkle. Ryall will bring this act back to Danny's in October, so mark your calendars now.

What a joy it is to hear comedian Adrianne Tolsch toss off jokes that hit pay dirt with amazing consistency in None of Your Damn Business!, which plays Monday nights through September at Rose's Turn. Tolsch is a woman of a certain age, but her comedy is ageless. Her jokes are neither cruel nor nasty; they're just funny, with subjects ranging from makeup to rice cakes, plastic surgery, and sex. Under the astute direction of Collette Black, the smart and inventive Tolsch talks about the foibles of growing older and dealing with those changes -- and she is most often the butt of her own jokes. Isn't that refreshing?

It's always a treat when Lee Lessack comes to New York from his home base on the West Coast, and it's a triple treat when he returns with Brian Lane Green and John Boswell in their always-evolving show Three Men and a Baby Grand, which played earlier this month at Helen's. Lessack is a light baritone with a smooth, creamy voice; Green is a bright and charming tenor with a wicked sense of humor; and Boswell, the act's musical director, also sings and writes songs. These guys sound great together but they also shine when they're performing in the solo spotlight.

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Anne Stockton
Anne Stockton
Fit for a Queen

Generally speaking, there are three different approaches to the one-person show: the biographical (Mark Twain Tonight!), the comedic (Mario Cantone, Jackie Mason, et al.), and the multi-character tour de force (John Leguizamo, Sarah Jones). Much rarer is a show like The Speed Queen, which concludes a six-performance run tonight at the Culture Project as part of the Women Center Stage 2005 festival. Performed by the remarkable Anne Stockton, who adapted the novel of the same title by Stewart O'Nan, this is a daring piece of theater.

It's clear from the initial set-up that Stockton's character, Marjorie Standiford, is a woman in prison who is explaining the circumstances that brought her to this end. And we do mean end: We soon learn that she's on death row and that her execution is scheduled for later this same night. The story she tells (into a tape recorder) is intended to be turned into a book about her infamous crimes, the proceeds of which she hopes will provide for her child's future.

Stockton imbues her character with a sad innocence mixed with defiance. Both a victim and a perpetrator, Marjorie is a fascinating creation. Despite her horrific crimes, you can't help but sympathize with this woman who loves so passionately and hurts so deeply. Austin Pendleton has directed the play with a keen understanding of the humanity within the monster -- which is not surprising, since his own play Uncle Bob also touched upon the darkest corners of the soul.

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Christopher Sloan, Paul Witthorne,  January LaVoy, and Ryan Kelly in Joy
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Christopher Sloan, Paul Witthorne,
January LaVoy, and Ryan Kelly in Joy
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Ode to Joy

Despite an irritating protagonist, a preponderance of sex jokes, and a thin plot, John Fisher's Joy is surprisingly sweet. A playful piece of work now on view at the the Actors' Playhouse, Joy tells the stories of two couples -- one gay, one lesbian -- in San Francisco in the 1990s. Not so much a slice of life as it is a slice of love, this play (with music) entertainingly shines a spotlight on the one, ineffable thing that makes the world go round.

Director Ben Rimalower finds endearing ways to bring the show's characters to vivid life. So do the young and talented cast members: Ken Barnett, Michael Busillo, Ben Curtis, Ryan Kelly, January LaVoy, Christopher Sloan, and Paul Whitthorne. It's great to see Kelly, whom we have heard sing many times at Jim Caruso's Cast Party, give a delightfully sexy comic performance as Elsa. Brava!

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]