Actress has gift for musicals, complexity of Ibsen

When she attended Ohio’s West Carrollton Senior High, Alice Ripley wanted to tackle Shakespeare, Shaw and Ibsen. Looking back at those early years, she calls herself a “reluctant musical theater major,” because, whenever she auditioned, that’s what she got cast in — a musical.

But characters like Lady Macbeth, Candida and Nora just didn’t exist in the musical theater. Then after finding success and employment on Broadway in such original productions as “Side Show,” “The Rocky Horror Show,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Who’s Tommy,” Ripley met Diana, the bipolar wife-mother who undergoes drug and shock therapy in “Next to Normal.”

“The role takes a woman onstage in a musical to a place she has never been, and takes the audience as well,” says Ripley, who won a Tony in June as best actress in a musical for the part. She contrasts Diana to more conventional musical-theater characters like Laurey from “Oklahoma” or Julie from “Carousel.”

“Those women go through serious drama offstage, both emotionally and physically, and you don’t see that drama because of the time those musicals were written,” says Ripley. “Diana is a full-fledged, wild woman, and she shatters the old mold of the female character in musicals.”Nowadays, Ripley remains so psyched about Diana that she actually enjoys doing the stage door ritual every night with theatergoers. “I can’t wait to hear their stories, and they all have them,” she says.

It wasn’t always so. “When I did ‘Rocky Horror,’ I didn’t want to meet the audience afterward,” Ripley recalls, “because they’d been having a good time yelling names at me all night, and I didn’t really want to tell them that I didn’t have such a good time being yelled at all night.”

IN A NUTSHELL

Job title: Actress

Mentors: “George Hearn, whom I worked with on ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ Theater is a job, and he is passionate about it, but he keeps it in perspective, which only adds to his success as an actor.”

Career mantra: “You’ve got to chop back the performance like a rose bush. That’s when it’s beautiful.”

Leisure pursuit: “Leisure time is when I’m not at the Booth Theater.”

Philanthropic passion: “I don’t honestly have the time or energy to support anybody else’s cause but my own, which is self-expression. So I guess if I had a cause it would be education.”

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