Broadway knows her best as Diana, the manic depressive mother in Next to Normal and the role for which she took home the 2009 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. While Diana will undoubtedly make an appearance at her 54 Below debut on August 3, Alice Ripley hopes to give audiences a broader view of her artistic career as both a Broadway actress and a singer/songwriter.
Alongside accompanist Jessica Means (about whom she proudly boasted for being recently accepted into Columbia Medical School), Ripley offered a preview of her concert, showing that she's more than just an unhinged mother after all.
How did you go about choosing your set list?
These are songs that I love to sing. I've chosen them out of shows that I've been in on Broadway in the original cast… But I might sing somebody else's song in the show or I might sing my song, or I might do both. The show is a reflection. The reason "reflect" is in the title is because it's like a timeline. What I've done, my work — especially on Broadway, but in the city in general.
What kinds of things do you hope the show teaches people about you and your career?
I'll tell some stories. Give the audience some information about the songs from the shows that they might not know. I'm hoping that they'll walk away knowing a couple more things about what I've done, and how, and when. Also, I take a break in the middle of the set [and] sing some of my own songs. I started writing songs in 1991, and it's been part of the foundation of my creative process to play and sing. It reminds me of who I really am, and I feel like I can go and take on a role and be somebody else. So the audience will get to see me singing songs from Broadway shows I've been in, but then they'll see me sing some of my own songs, and that's when they'll get to know me. The songs from the Broadway shows, those are all the characters. When I sing my own songs, they'll really get to know Alice — if [they] listen to the lyrics and the melodies.
Would you like to pursue a solo recording career?
I would pretty much welcome just about anything that came into my path right now because of where I am in my life. I'm wide open as far as my creative process goes, and I feel so good because I write, and I play, and I sing. So I'm trying to keep my mind open as far as what's next for me, but I will always come back to musicals and Broadway shows because that's my home.
How did you and Jessica start working together?
It's a great story. I was at the Booth doing Diana in Next to Normal and Next to Normal won the Pulitzer Prize, and I won the Tony for my performance, so when I would come out of the Booth they'd have the ushers in Shubert Alley put up the barricades. So I was just standing there talking to people, working my way down the line, and there were a lot of people. There were at least a hundred. And I'm signing autographs and taking pictures and then suddenly the seas parted and this one comes…Jess is petite and lovely and petite people sometimes wear lots of high heels. She had the heels on. She was like, click click click click click click click click click click click over to the barricade and I noticed her. And she said, "Hi, my name's Jessica and I'm your new accompanist." And I thought, that's just crazy enough to work! And it turned out that she's actually pretty amazing. I lucked out. We've had a great time coming up with this material, and Jess has made some new arrangements. There's a new arrangement of "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" that's totally different than the Broadway show, and I really like it. We're really excited about it.
You're also preparing to do Carrie: The Musical in Seattle. When will that start for you?
That will be the month of October. It's like a five-week shot of being out there and coming back. But Louis Hobson, who played Dr. Madden in Next to Normal for the entire run, it's his theater and he's directing it. It's going to be like a family reunion. When you do a show with somebody, it's like when you work in the trenches with somebody. So I'm looking forward to hanging out with Louis and tackling that role.
How do you feel about always getting cast as the unhinged mother?
[Laughs] I was just thinking that. I'm kind of coming into mothers who are slightly…that's Diana. There might be some people who still think that I'm Diana but that's okay. If they come to my show, they'll see there are other sides of me. But Diana kind of catapulted me forward. She is a mother who's kind of unhinged. So [are the parts in] all the movie scripts and all the TV scripts I'm getting right now…but it's great because you have to know your type. So I'm kind of growing into that now.
Do you find that Diana helps you or limits you?
I think at this point she's helping me.