There are few things I enjoy more than hearing Alice Ripley belt out a good ole show tune. So, when it was announced in early June that former Side Show co-stars Ripley and Emily Skinner would reunite for a concert evening at Town Hall Oct. 21, I quickly marked the date on my theatre-going calendar. Ripley, as I have written before, possesses one of the great voices of her generation, one that boasts a seemingly limitless belt range that is buttressed by a lovely soprano. She is also what I'd call a fearless singer, both in the keys in which she chooses to sing and in her interpretative choices. And, when she joins the equally talented Skinner in song, the tonal quality of their blended voices is thrilling.
"I needed some space, a little more sky and a new view maybe," Ripley joked by phone last week, explaining her decision to relocate to Los Angeles last year with husband, drummer Shannon Ford. "Los Angeles really suits my pace of life right now, so it's perfect." She also says auditioning for film and TV work in L.A. has been a thoroughly positive experience: "Auditions [in New York] had been getting stressful for me, and when I moved here, the shift that was required to go from theatre auditions to television auditions has been a positive change. I think I'm having more fun . . . going out for camera stuff. The camera auditions have renewed my joy in auditions all around — it shakes up the process a little bit in a good way."
When I last had the pleasure of chatting with Ripley, she was set to begin performances in the Paper Mill Playhouse's April 2005 production of The Baker's Wife, the ill-fated Stephen Schwartz musical best known for the ballad "Meadowlark," originally recorded by Patti LuPone and later tackled by Betty Buckley and Liz Callaway. Ripley's performance of that story song was as powerfully sung as it was beautifully acted, and she also impressed with her two other solos, "Gifts of Love" in the first act and the touching "Where Is the Warmth?" in the second. Her final scenes were also supremely moving, as she and the Baker reconcile while the townspeople welcome Genevieve back to their provincial village. About her time at the New Jersey theatre, Ripley says, "That was a special experience. The cast fell in love with each other, and I described it as 'jumping naked into a giant cream puff!' It really was delightful. I'm very grateful to have had the experience of playing Genevieve."
Although Ripley admits there is always "that secret hope" that a production may transfer to New York, she says, book writer Joseph Stein and composer Schwartz were "very pleased with what everybody did out at Paper Mill. It seemed to make them happy, [and] they didn't seem to feel like it needed to expand at all." Currently, Ripley is focusing her attention on her songwriting and her new rock album "Outtasite," which is now available on iTunes, Pandora.com and CDbaby. The disc, she laughs, gives voice "to my inner demons. That's the unifying theme. It's noisy, but I think the lyrics have an impact." The recording features her self-titled band RIPLEY, which also includes husband Shannon and "my friend Chris Schelling, who plays keyboards and other sounds." Among the disc's 11 tracks — all penned by the singing actress — are such titles as "Miss America," "Wicked Torch," "Dangerous," "Ode to a Bad Guy" and "Dear Jane."
Ripley is also searching for an appropriate Los Angeles venue where she and her band can perform their new work. "The place I played the other night for a Breast Cancer benefit is called the Avalon," Ripley says. "It's right on Hollywood and Vine. It was a great space. It kind of reminded me of the Kit Kat Theatre, a little bit smaller. That would be a good space for us. I think that our band needs a thrust stage with a theatrical bent to it, but it also needs to be gritty."
About her upcoming concert with friend Skinner, which is simply titled Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley Sing Broadway!, Ripley says, "We're going to be singing our hits from the two records we made together, and then we're each going to do songs that are lesser known. I'm going to sing a couple songs from shows I've been working on this past year that might possibly move [to New York]." Those musicals include Kristina from the Mamma Mia! team of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Feeling Electric. And, yes, she and Skinner will also offer a selection of tunes from Side Show, the 1997 musical about conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton that brought both Ripley and Skinner a new legion of fans.
"The very first moment we sang together," Ripley says of Skinner, "there was something that passed through us that I don't know quite how to describe. It was just a feeling of 'Oh yeah, this is something I'm supposed to do and give everything to' — the idea of singing with her and making the sound together. I have sung with a lot of different people in my life, and I had never felt that before. . . . There's something about our voices when they blend that make it sound so much bigger than when we're by ourselves. It's more than the just the volume, [it's also] the complementary tones, [but] it's a mystery to me."
When asked whether she would move back to New York should a Broadway offer come her way, the multitalented performer pauses and says, "I think I've become more choosey about projects that I want to be involved in, and I consider that a good sign. I worked on four projects last year that could possibly go forward, and I think they're all good, so I would say yes to any of those. I think it's good to be conservative with your creative energy, to be a little bit stingy because there are only so many hours in the day, so you have to make a decision about who you're going to give your energy to."
Ripley adds, "I think that I give my creative energy every day to that which gets me the most excited — a script or if I'm writing something or if I'm painting something or if I'm working on a new song for an audition or working up toward a workshop of some musical that I'm doing. Whatever it happens to be, I try to do a little bit of that every day, and then the next project just kind of makes itself obvious."
As for her post-Town Hall-concert plans, Ripley says, "I will probably come back home to L.A., promote the record, go through the holidays, and stay for pilot season. . . . I have an agent here, and he sends me out for things. [I also had a] series of tests at NBC this past summer for a new TV show. It was very exciting to be in the executive offices and see some of the 'game' from the inside."
[Tickets for Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley Sing Broadway! — part of Scott Siegel's three-night Broadway Cabaret Festival — are available by calling (212) 307-4100 or by visiting www.ticketmaster.com. Town Hall is located in Manhattan at 123 West 43rd Street. For more information visit www.the-townhall-nyc.org. For information about the band RIPLEY, visit myspace.com/ripleytheband.]
THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS
Congratulations to all involved for the terrific concert presentation of Carol Hall, Larry L. King and Peter Masterson's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas this past Monday evening at the August Wilson Theatre. The sixth annual benefit concert for the Actors' Fund of America — which was dedicated to the late former governor of Texas, Ann Richards — kicked off with speeches by gossip maven Liz Smith and Actors' Fund President, Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell. Smith remarked how times have changed since Whorehouse opened on Broadway in 1978, explaining that when she would discuss the musical on TV's "Live at Five" during its original run, she would have to refer to the production as The Best Little "Whoohouse" in Texas. She also spoke about her late friend Richards, joking, "If a thunderbolt comes down in the middle of the show, you'll know it's Ann. Or, knowing Ann, maybe a thunderbolt will come up!"
There were many highlights during the two-act semi-staged concert, which was directed by Mark S. Hoebee, but perhaps none more exciting than "The Aggie Song" — wonderfully choreographed by Denis Jones and featuring a shirtless clan comprising Rick Faugno, Justin Greer, Jeff Lewis, Matthew Rossoff, Dennis Stowe, Jason Patrick Sands, Bret Shuford and Will Taylor. The audience burst into applause as the Aggie Boys strutted their stuff, singing of the joys to come at the Chicken Ranch.
Among the evening's many other high points: Jennifer Hudson, the former "American Idol" contestant who will soon be seen as Effie in the eagerly awaited film of Dreamgirls, stopped the show with her stentorian vocals, belting out a fierce "Twenty Four Hours of Lovin'"; Emily Skinner, as Chicken Ranch proprietor Miss Mona, oozed warmth and sensuality and was particularly moving during the musical's finale, "The Bus From Amarillo"; Andrea McArdle belted out "Doatsy Mae" with her crystal-clear alto that remains as fresh and delightful as ever; and Terrence Mann seemed to relish his chance playing the tough-talking Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. There was also enjoyable work by the Jersey Boys, Richard Kind, Mary Faber, Felicia Finley and the delightful cast of [title of show].
Final mention must be made of Whorehouse artistic producer and musical director Seth Rudetsky, who year after year probably works as hard as anyone in the theatre community to raise funds for the Actors' Fund and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Bravo. DIVA TIDBITS
Daphne Rubin-Vega, the former Rent star who will be seen as Fantine in the upcoming Broadway revival of Les Misérables, will celebrate the recent release of her new CD with a concert at the Cutting Room. On Oct. 30 the two-time Tony-nominated singer-actress will perform at the downtown club. Rubin-Vega will offer tunes from "Redemption Songs," which was released Oct. 17 on the Sh-K-Boom Records label. Show time is 7:30 PM. The Cutting Room is located in Manhattan at 19 West 24th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. There is a $12 cover charge (in advance) or $15 at the door. Call (212) 691-1900 for reservations or visit www.thecuttingroomnyc.com.
Drama Desk nominee Leslie Kritzer — of The Great American Trailer Park Musical fame — recently played to a standing-room only crowd at Joe's Pub when she debuted her cabaret act, Leslie Kritzer Is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches. Response to the performance, which was directed by Joy's Ben Rimalower, was so enthusiastic that four more performances have been added. Kritzer will once again embody Tony and Olivier Award winner LuPone Oct. 27 at 9:30 PM, Nov. 26 at 9:30 PM and Dec. 8 and 9 at 11:30 PM. In Leslie Krtizer Is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches, the young actress re-creates LuPone's now-legendary concerts at the now-defunct New York nightspot Les Mouches. LuPone's original musical director, David Lewis, returns as musical director for Kritzer's evenings, which utilize the show's original arrangements. Concertgoers can expect to hear such LuPone signature tunes as "Meadowlark," "Rainbow High" and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" as well as "Because the Night," "Love for Sale," "Downtown," "Not While I'm Around" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Avenue. There is a $25 cover charge plus food/drink minimum. Call (212) 239-6200 for reservations or visit www.telecharge.com.
Several Broadway favorites will be part of the upcoming concert at Birdland, The Jeff Blumenkrantz Songbook. Composer Blumenkrantz will be joined Nov. 20 by Tony Award winner Victoria Clark as well as Liz Callaway, Michael McElroy and Alysha Umphress. The performers will be accompanied by Blumenkrantz on piano, Peter Donovan on bass and Sean McDaniel on drums. Show time is 7 PM. Birdland is located in Manhattan at 315 West 44th Street. There is a $25 cover charge and a $10 food-drink minimum. Call (212) 581-3080 for reservations or visit www.instantseats.com.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.