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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 25, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 08
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Alice Ripley on the raw complexity of Next to Normal
Arts & Entertainment
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Alice Ripley on the raw complexity of Next to Normal

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Next to Normal
5th Avenue Theatre
Through March 13


Alice Ripley is a woman of many talents. She's a Tony Award-winning actress, a singer with a rock band, and a songwriter, as well. Her stage credits have included Siamese twin performers (Side Show), the iconic Janet Weiss, (The Rocky Horror Show) and Diana Goodman, a woman trying to deal with being bipolar in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal (which is only one of nine musicals to ever win the prestigious award). The Seattle Gay News caught up with this versatile and highly talented actress, now recreating her award-winning performance for the tour of Next to Normal. With a new solo CD just being released, there seems to be no end for this talented lady!

Eric Andrews-Katz: What was the earliest sign you had that you'd be involved in musical theatre?

Alice Ripley: When I was 14, I saw the Cleveland Playhouse Square's production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. By then, I had already taken up singing, acting, dancing, and guitar, but seeing those performers onstage made me realize it was a legitimate field, and I thought to myself, 'I can do that.'

Andrews-Katz: While you were at DePauw University, what was the first show you were in?

Ripley: I was cast as Meg in Brigadoon.

Andrews-Katz: You created the Broadway role of Betty Schaefer in Sir Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard. How come you're not on the Broadway recording?

Ripley: Sunset Boulevard started in London, and a recording exists from that cast. Then the show came to America and 'premiered' at L.A.'s Century Theatre. Prior to moving to Broadway, the Los Angeles cast was captured on disc while in L.A. However, I joined the cast before it moved to Broadway, when Judy Kuhn left the production in L.A. to have a baby. A Broadway cast recording was never made.

Andrews-Katz: Were you familiar with the Siamese twin actresses Violet and Daisy Hilton before working on Side Show?

Ripley: I had seen them in the film Freaks.

Andrews-Katz: Since Side Show, you have collaborated several times with Emily Skinner. How did you first meet her and what was the definitive bonding moment between you?

Ripley: Emily and I met at my Side Show workshop audition. I was to be cast as Violet opposite her as Daisy. Emily had been working on the material for several workshops. In my audition she was there. When we stood hip-to-hip and sang, I will admit that yes, something magical happened. Our voices sounded seamless together and we had very similar physical qualities.

Andrews-Katz: Between two very serious musicals, you were Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Show revival. What was it like to be in such a cult classic?

Ripley: I was so happy to finally be cast in a comic role, because I had been playing ingénues for so many years! The audience was very enthusiastic. Sometimes I wanted to spank them and tell them to behave (or kick them out!), but our director, Christopher Ashley, forbid it!

Andrews-Katz: Next to Normal is a musical about being bipolar and mental illness. What was your first reaction when approached for the show?

Ripley: No, Next to Normal isn't about that. I see it differently. Next to Normal [N2N] centers on suppressed grief and devastating losses coming to light. As an actor, I am drawn to raw material, energetic teamwork, and complicated characters, and 'Feeling Electric,' as N2N was [originally] titled, had all this and more - and it drew me in like a magnet.

Andrews-Katz: How do you think the show influenced the world enough to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama?

Ripley: Hmmm, I wouldn't know because I have never sat in the audience of N2N. However, I would be very interested to know the answer! I could guess the reason N2N resonates so deeply with the audience is due to the way the story and music reflect the immediate and pertinent struggles of society.

Andrews-Katz: What was the hardest obstacle in preparing for your role as Diana Goodman?

Ripley: Maintaining a buoyant energy in order to respond to the demands of the role, which include going to emotional extremes that even 'real life Dianas' don't experience eight times in six days, every week, week after week, without cease.

Andrews-Katz: Your band, RIPLEY, has three CDs out. What kind of music do you do with the band?

Ripley: Everything's Fine is suburban folk. Outtasite and RIPLEY EP are loud rock albums. These CDs contain all-original songs.

Andrews-Katz: Your new CD is Daily Practice, Volume 1. Why the title, and will there be a volume two?

Ripley: Yes, there will be a series of volumes! Daily Practice, Volume 1 is a new release, which is a collection of stripped-down classic rock songs played by me on my acoustic Taylor guitar with no other instrumentation, sounds, or effects other than my voice, my guitar, and the song. I call it Daily Practice because I practice these songs on my instrument every day. Carole King, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne - they are among the artists that sparked a creative fire in me when I was 14. I heard these songs and I found a reason to live, to write, to practice.

Alice Ripley's Broadway debut was in The Who's Tommy, and since then, she has not stopped working. Her singing can be heard on more than five cast recordings and three CD collaborations with Emily Skinner. She has four solo CDs out with her band, RIPLEY. Nominated for two Drama Desk Awards and two Tony Awards (Side Show, 1998, and Next to Normal, 2009), Ms. Ripley won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2009 for Next to Normal.

To contact Eric Andrews-Katz, e-mail eric@sgn.org.

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