Meet the many faces of Tony-winning ‘Next to Normal’ actress Alice Ripley

February 15, 2011

Alice Ripley as Diana Goodman

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.’”

Alice Ripley as Diana Goodman

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.”

Brian Yorkey answers questions Monday about ‘Next to Normal’

January 8, 2011

NEW — 2 p.m. Jan. 8, 2011

Brian Yorkey takes to the stage Monday to discuss the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Next to Normal” — weeks before the national tour reaches Seattle.

Yorkey, a former Village Theatre associate artistic director and Issaquah High School alumnus, is scheduled to participate in Spotlight Night at The 5th Avenue Theatre.

David Armstrong, 5th Avenue Theatre executive producer and artistic director, hosts the Q&A session.

Yorkey appears at the Seattle theater to discuss the rock musical “Next to Normal” — a dysfunctional-family-drama about a bipolar-disorder-afflicted housewife.

The piece earned Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt the Pulitzer Prize for Drama — a rarity reserved for only a handful of musicals — early last year.

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Issaquah tragedies, triumphs define a tumultuous year

December 28, 2010

Traffic lines up on state Route 900 at Northwest Talus Drive in February. State Department of Transportation crews completed the long-running project in 2010. By Greg Farrar

The economy lurched from the recession, population growth all but stalled and Issaquah — after cutbacks and setbacks in 2009 — defied the odds to reach major milestones throughout 2010.

Momentum returned in 2010 after a year spent in a holding pattern. Set against the backdrop of a fragile recovery, leaders cut the ribbon on businesses and roads, laid the foundation for preservation and construction, and marked tragedies and successes. Read more

‘Sleuth’ tickets go on sale at Village Theatre

December 21, 2010

Solve a mystery at Village Theatre.

The downtown Issaquah theater presents “Sleuth” from Jan. 19 to Feb. 27. Theatergoers can purchase tickets at the theater website, www.villagetheatre.org. Or call the box office at 392-2202. Tickets can also be purchased at the box office, 303 Front St. N., from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Tickets range from $20 to $60.

“Sleuth” has earned the Tony Award for Best Play. The production is the lone play in a musical-packed Village Theatre season. Read more

Brian Yorkey returns to direct ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

July 27, 2010

Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Issaquah High School alumnus Brian Yorkey returns to Village Theatre in May to direct the blockbuster “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

The rock musical about the last days of Jesus Christ runs in Issaquah from May 11 to July 3, and then opens for a monthlong run in Everett.

Before he headed to Broadway, Yorkey served as associate artistic director for Village Theatre. He started at the theater as a pioneering force in the popular youth education program, KIDSTAGE.

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First Stage reconstruction starts soon

June 29, 2010

The effort to replace the original Village Theatre — the frontier-era relic known as First Stage Theatre — inched ahead last week.

Crews closed the sidewalk in front of the historic building, and detoured pedestrians through wooden scaffolding built adjacent to the street. The sidewalk closure runs through March 2011.

Plans call for the existing structure to be razed in coming weeks, and for a modern theater to replace the almost century-old building at 120 Front St. N.

A rendering shows how the completed First Stage will appear. Contributed

Traffic passes the temporary sidewalk June 28 in front of the Village Theatre First Stage building at 120 Front Street N., as extensive renovations begin. By Greg Farrar

Crews from contractor Foushée & Associates, a Bellevue builder, started to disassemble the building last week. Construction should start on the new theater in July, theater spokeswoman Michelle Sanders said.

The builder intends to incorporate wood and other components, such as the iconic sign, from the historic theater into the planned building. Executives intend for the First Stage building to be LEED certified.

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Retiring instructor loses his sight, but not his passion for teaching

June 22, 2010

Issaquah High School graduates Amy Saad (left) and Christina Joo visit David Mickelsen’s classroom to give him a basket full of his favorite snack — chocolate. The girls said they bought every type of chocolate Hershey’s makes and told him not to eat it in one sitting. By Chantelle Lusebrink

In 43 years of teaching, more than 6,400 students have walked through David Mickelsen’s classroom door at Issaquah High School.

What he hopes they’ve come away with are lessons not only in U.S. History and European studies, but a lesson in confidence, he said before retiring June 17.

Confidence and heart

From the front of the classroom, Mickelsen, 67, has given some of the most animated lectures in Issaquah’s history.

Casting himself in character roles adopted from the history books, like a medieval peasant and a 1920s-era husband against women’s suffrage, he kept students entertained and made history unforgettable and fun, said Mary Lou Priestley-Fine, an assistant in his classroom.

“I had him for all three years at Issaquah, whether as a student or a teacher’s aide and it was an honor to have him,” said Amy Saad, a 2010 graduate. “He definitely changed my life for the better.”

But as the years passed and students came and went, the stage on which he performed has grown darker.

Mickelsen was diagnosed in 1971 with optic nerve atrophy, a degenerative disease that deteriorates the optic nerve and has left him legally blind.

Though he can still distinguish bright colors, patterns and large objects, Mickelsen walks with the help of a cane and gives textbook lessons from memory.

A teaching career begins

Mickelsen graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1961.

Though his father was a teacher at Queen Anne High School, “I didn’t really enjoy school, but my mom said I was going to college,” he said. “I didn’t really know I was going to be a teacher until I student taught.”

During a student teaching assignment in Seattle, Mickelsen said he worked extensively with one young boy who had special needs and it gave him a soft spot for children who don’t learn like others.

“Just the idea that he had a hard time understanding got me curious,” he said. “I told myself there must be more than one way to teach this boy.” Read more

Village Theatre musical actor wins a Tony

June 15, 2010

Levi Kreis

“Million Dollar Quartet” actor Levi Kreis — who originated the high-energy, piano-thumping portrayal of rock ‘n’ roller Jerry Lee Lewis at Issaquah’s Village Theatre — has won a Tony Award for playing the role on Broadway.

Kreis picked up the statuette for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role in the Broadway account of a famous jam session. The based-on-a-true-story musical recounts Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Lewis collaborating at the Sun Records studio in Memphis in 1956.

“Million Dollar Quartet” debuted at the downtown Issaquah theater in September 2007. The production remains the most successful original musical in Village Theatre history. “Million Dollar Quartet” opened on Broadway in April, and also continues a successful run in Chicago.

“I don’t think an outstanding performance can exist authentically without a team that is working as a whole and as a unit, in harmony, and I owe this to the best, most talented, supportive cast and crew that I’ve ever had the privilege of working with,” Kreis said from the Radio City Music Hall stage after he accepted the award during the June 13 ceremony.

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Village Theatre musical wins Tony Award for acting

June 13, 2010

UPDATED — 1:35 p.m. June 14, 2010

“Million Dollar Quartet” actor Levi Kreis — who originated the high-energy, piano-thumping portrayal of rock ‘n’ roller Jerry Lee Lewis at Issaquah’s Village Theatre — has won a Tony Award for playing the role on Broadway.

Kreis picked up the statuette for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role in the Broadway account of a famous jam session. The based-on-a-true-story musical recounts Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Lewis collaborating at the Sun Records studio in Memphis in 1956.

“Million Dollar Quartet” debuted at the downtown Issaquah theater in September 2007. The production remains the most successful original musical in Village Theatre history. “Million Dollar Quartet” opened on Broadway in April, and also continues a successful run in Chicago.

Read more

Electric run continues for Issaquah’s Brian Yorkey

June 8, 2010

Not long before the Pulitzer Prize board announced the awards in early April, the team behind the musical “Next to Normal” — including Issaquah native Brian Yorkey, the writer and lyricist — heard the show might be under consideration for the drama prize.

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger (left) stands alongside Pulitzer Prize for Drama honorees Tom Kitt (center) and Issaquah native Brian Yorkey. By Eileen Barroso

Like he had before the musical picked up three Tony Awards last spring, Yorkey attempted to shut out the chatter.

Until he received a call from “Next to Normal” producer David Stone on April 12, the day the Pulitzer board announced the honorees.

“Is this Pulitzer Prize winner Brian Yorkey?” he asked.

The creative team dashed through a dozen media interviews, and then joined the cast to celebrate during “one more amazing night in a series of amazing nights,” Yorkey said.

The prize marked the latest milestone for a rock musical about a suburban family strained by bipolar disorder. “Next to Normal” originated at Village Theatre in downtown Issaquah eight years ago as “Feeling Electric.”

“It’s an unusual show,” Yorkey said. “It feels dark in some ways, it feels small in some ways. It doesn’t feel like a blockbuster, award-winning musical.”

The production became the eighth musical to be honored since the prizes added a drama category 92 years ago, and the first musical since “Rent” in 1996. Sober plays — such as “Doubt” and “August: Osage County” — dominated the category during the past decade.

“One of the things I’ve learned about ‘Next to Normal’ is that it has a group of fans in the theater world who are very dedicated, but it also touches people who may not like musicals,” Yorkey said.

The prize jury had submitted three finalists — “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” by Kristoffer Diaz, “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” by Rajiv Joseph and “In the Next Room, or the vibrator play,” by Sarah Ruhl — but the Pulitzer board eschewed the selections and picked the musical instead. (The jury included three theater critics, a playwright and a member of academia.)

The board praised “Next to Normal” as “a powerful rock musical” and a groundbreaking piece. The prize goes to the playwright, although the Pulitzer judges factor the performance into the decision.

Only the public service honoree receives the iconic Pulitzer medal. Everyone else takes home a $10,000 prize, a crystal paperweight and a certificate in a light blue folder — Columbia blue, because Columbia University administers the prizes. Read more

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