Meet the many faces of Tony-winning ‘Next to Normal’ actress Alice Ripley
February 15, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Actress Alice Ripley cries a monsoon in each “Next to Normal” performance as suburban mom Diana Goodman.
The lead character suffers from bipolar disorder, but electroshock therapy and pills, pills, pills cannot quiet the illness. Ripley has occupied the challenging role since “Next to Normal” debuted Off Broadway in early 2008 and earned a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for the Broadway staging the following year.
“I see ‘Next to Normal’ as a story about every family that has experienced loss and grief, because that is what ‘Next to Normal’ is about, in my view,” she said.
Ripley and the national “Next to Normal” tour reach The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle on Feb. 22.
“Alice did what you always hope an actor does with such a vital role in a new show,” Issaquah native and “Next to Normal” author-lyricist Brian Yorkey said. “You want an actor to come into the rehearsal room and pick up the script and say, ‘OK, this part’s mine. I am this person.’”
Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt kept Ripley in mind as “Next to Normal” and the precursor “Feeling Electric” ricocheted from workshop to workshop.
“Initially, I am drawn to raw material. Then, I saturate myself with facts from the world I am entering — her story,” Ripley said. “After that, anything goes. Actors must use their imaginations to fill in the gaps of information.”
“Next to Normal” demands a nonstop stream of combustible emotions from Ripley in each performance. The actress has left a long-lasting imprimatur after hundreds of outings as Diana.
“Since Diana lives in me and I am an ever-changing human, it stands to reason that we have both grown and changed in the four years that I have known her,” Ripley said.
Emma Hunton portrays troubled daughter Natalie in the national tour. The role puts mother and daughter at loggerheads.
“It’s like watching a master class, because Alice is one of those actors who will challenge you onstage,” Hunton said.
The unfiltered look at mental illness — and the anguish the Goodman family endures — has imparted lessons to Ripley’s “Next to Normal” costars.
“With Alice, it’s sort of unexpected. You never know what you’re going to get, which keeps you on your toes and makes the show really fresh,” Hunton said. “If I’ve learned anything from her, it’s never to do the same thing twice.”