John McDaniel and Alice Ripley

Alice Ripley Returns to Ptown to Make 'Really Good Music' with John McDaniel

Nicholas Dussault READ TIME: 11 MIN.

If you visited a laundromat in the Queens neighborhood where Alice Ripley lives, you wouldn't expect to see the Tony-winning actress taking her bedding out of the dryer. But Ripley isn't your ordinary Broadway star. She does her own laundry. She fronts a rock band. And that Tony, which she won for her epic performance in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical "Next to Normal," is nowhere to be seen. It is in storage. Hardly a profile expected of a Broadway actress whose belt is compared to those of Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, and Idina Menzel.

Ripley's Broadway career dates from the 1990s, when she got her first break from director Des McAnuff, who cast her in his first production of "The Who's Tommy" in 1993. Next came Betty Shaeffer in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard," but her breakout role came in 1997 in the cult musical "Side Show," in which she played Violet Hilton, a conjoined twin who, with her sister Daisy (Emily Skinner), went on to worldwide fame, appearing in vaudeville and movies. When it opened, Ben Brantley in the New York Times called Ms. Ripley and Ms. Skinner "astonishing," and wondered aloud what the Tony committee would do with these two performances. As it turned out, they received a dual nomination – the first time in the Award's history.

Actress Alice Ripley poses with her award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for 'Next to Normal' poses in the pressroom at the 63rd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Brya

Ripley did win a Tony in 2009 for her widely acclaimed portrayal of Diana Goodman, a bipolar suburban housewife struggling with the loss of her infant son, in "Next to Normal." Again, Brantley described her performance with one word: "astounding." In an unusual move, Ripley toured with the show, hearkening back to stars shared their performance with fans outside of New York. Since then, she has appeared in Broadway musical adaptation of "American Psycho" (2016) and regional productions of three Sondheim musicals: "Company," "Sweeney Todd," and "Into the Woods," as well as the Bible-thumping mother in "Carrie." And her connection with "Sunset Boulevard" continued when she made a memorable Norma Desmond in a regional theater production at the North Shore Music Theatre in 2019.

In 2022 she returned to the role of Diana in an unusual, immersive production of "Next to Normal" in Barcelona, which cut the show to an hour in length and dispensed of set and props, instead using 360-degree projections. Under the hand of British director Simon Pittman, this deconstruction all but placed the audience into the Goodman household. "We actors are told never to give our backs to the audience," Ripley told the Times during rehearsals, "and here all of those rules are gone."

Recently, Ripley has been touring a cabaret show with Emmy- and Grammy-winning producer, composer, conductor, and pianist, John McDaniel. Many fondly remember him as the bandleader and unofficial sidekick for the entire run of the "Rosie O'Donnell Show." He is currently producing John McDaniel's Broadway Series' 2024 Summer Series, and he and Ripley will be performing their cabaret show on July 19 and 20 at the Post Office Cabaret.

Actress Alice Ripley and the cast of 'Next to Normal' perform onstage during the 63rd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

EDGE had the chance to chat with Ms. Ripley as she prepares for her return visit to Provincetown.

EDGE: Two nights in Ptown. A lot can happen. What can we expect to see?

Alice Ripley: I'm so excited. I'm really looking forward to it. I always say it's the happiest place on earth. I've never seen so many people really happy just doing nothing but walking around eating, enjoying each other and everything about it. Everybody is so free to be who they are, who they want to be. Nobody is trying to cramp your style. There really is no place else like it. It takes a long time to get there, but every time I go there I say it's the happiest place on earth. And I'm happy to be coming back there.

EDGE: Do you do something different for the Ptown audience?

Alice Ripley: No, the audience does something different for me. I offer the same thing every day, we don't tailor it to a specific audience. With cabaret you look right in their faces; you get something different from each person. You get a connection unlike anything you're going to find in a proscenium. I think cabaret is a great fit for the arts lovers, people with a great sense of humor, who don't mind staying out late, laughing too loudly, crying over a song. It's perfect for people who are willing and happy to stay emotionally present; people who love something different. That's the audience in Ptown. Each show, you get something different, and it's not us. It's the incredible audience that's always willing to come along.

EDGE: Why cabaret?

Alice Ripley: Cabaret is an art form that, for an actor, may be one of the final frontiers. As an actor, you're always playing a role. It may sound like a bit of a cliché, but you have to find out who you are. There's a way of doing everything. Someone is directing you to do this or do that. With cabaret, you have to be an interesting personality on your own, and actors aren't really known for this. You've got to keep that in mind when you're in cabaret. You are the reason people come and watch you sing these songs. You want it to sound beautiful and perfect, but you've got to be interesting. It's kind of new for me to be Alice on stage, but I like it. I try to be somewhat irreverent: Let's get them laughing during the patter, and crying during the song.

by Nicholas Dussault

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