Bart Greenberg | January 9, 2020
In This Traveling Heart
Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, December 3, 2019
Reviewed by Bart Greenberg
Rian Keating is a natural storyteller, and he has quite a story to tell. During In This Traveling Heart, he took his audience from California to a lonely Ireland port (from which both the Titanic and the Lusitania set sail) to a return to New England and finally to his life-long destiny New York City. He peppered his set with songs that charted his shifting environments and delivered them in a slightly cracked voice evocative of Irish bar singalongs—that is, if the bar singalong included a show-tune section. Supported throughout by the subtle piano playing of music director Woody Regan and guided by the light touch of director Tanya Moberly, Keating made his packed house laugh and cry, and sometimes at the same time.
The song choices for the evening created a perfect arc that matched Keating’s life journey. Beginning with the appropriate and touching “My Childhood” (Jacques Brel/Eric Blau) and his father’s favorite song (he loved it so much he claimed to have written it) “Suzanne” (Leonard Cohen), he deftly revealed his dysfunctional but loving family. Like all good raconteurs, he knew exactly how much background was necessary to understand what happened later on. On a somewhat romantic and whimsical choice, the same father then relocated his family to the isolated village in Ireland—the strangely appropriate “Bali Hai” illuminated the paternal choice—and basically abandoned them to an unknown world.
His life on the Emerald Island involved priests, both good and predatory, and neighbor ladies, both doting and interfering. And music at the pub, exemplified and illuminated by “McGilligan’s Young Daughter, Maggie May” (The Black Family) and “Raglan Road” (Patrick Kavanaugh & Luke Kelly). Keating’s skill here was his deft characterization of each person who entered into his life with an economy of words and a compassionate heart.
Then he arrived in New York, the place where he truly belonged. Celebrating his arrival with a clever medley of “I Can See It” and “Another Hundred People,” and following that up with that great love song to the city, “I Happen to Like New York,” Keating brought his journeys to a pause at a very contented place, leaving the audience wanting to know what happened in the next chapter. A truly lovely ride.