Onstage & Backstage: Side Show Secrets! What Line Did Alice Ripley Miss During the Tony’s Performance?

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: Side Show Secrets! What Line Did Alice Ripley Miss During the Tony’s Performance?
 
In this week's look into Seth Rudetsky's life, Tony winner Alice Ripley shares the most passive-aggressive compliment she was ever given - by award-winning composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Wah! My last weekend in Provincetown for the summer. I had a great season up here! Shows with Rosie O'Donnell, Sam Harris, Kerry Butler, Norm Lewis, Audra McDonald and Will Swenson, Laura Osnes, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, Lea Delaria, Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker and, this week, Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner and, the final one with Vanessa Williams. I came up to Cape Cod with James and Juli and we spent almost a week here, which was delicious. Juli loves it in Ptown and wound up getting three jobs! Babysitting, hawking Judy Gold's show (there are so many shows in Ptown that every one of them has someone standing on the street and handing out fliers) and finally… tattoo artist.

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I'm sort of exaggerating for effect, but it's basically true; Laurence, James' haircutter from the salon across the street from The Anchor Inn, told James that the woman who did henna tattoos for them went back to college. James had mentioned to him that Juli going to a specialized high school for art and Laurence asked if Juli wanted to make some extra cash. YES was the answer from Juli, who spent the day in front of the salon and did such a great job. It was her first time doing henna tattoos, and we were so proud of her… as well as wanting to write a based-on-a-true-story "Lifetime" movie of the week called "Dawn: Portrait of a Teenaged Tattoo Artist." She begins high school this week (with all new kids whom she doesn't know) so it was a delicious boost of confidence in an otherwise anxiety-ridden lead up to freshman year.

James, Juli and I got to Ptown on Tuesday, and that night was my show with Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley. If ya don't know, they played Daisy and Violet Hilton, real-life conjoined twins, in the original production of Side Show. Emily was cast as Daisy in the very first reading (where I was the assistant music director!) back in the mid-90's, but Alice didn't audition to play Violet until the final workshop. She remembers getting the call to audition from her agent, and when she heard what the show was about she rolled her eyes and thought it was a headache-y idea…in other words, she said, she had the reaction most audience members had when they first heard about the show! But when she was told it had music by Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls), she got very excited. Emily and Alice didn't know each other but Emily was called in to sing at the auditions with various possible co-stars and they both felt they blended great in the audition room singing "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" Weirdly, Emily remembers seeing Alice perform the role of Mrs. Walker in The Who's Tommy years before and thinking, "The girl reminds me of me." Here they are on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," singing the song they sang at their audition.

Alice told us that she was asked to audition for the role of Betty Schaffer in Sunset Boulevard because Judy Kuhn got pregnant and couldn't take the show to Broadway. Alice was flown to L.A. and felt very fancy. All the bigwigs were at her audition, and she sang "Unexpected Song" from Song And Dance. She told us that Andrew Lloyd Webber got up and told her that it was "the best version he has ever heard." Well, that's where I wanted the sentence to end. Instead it was "The best version I've ever heard…. since my wife, Sarah Brightman's version." Why the passive-aggressive ending?

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Something like that just happened to my friend Jeff Roberson, who plays Varla Jean Merman. I'm going to write this story with some of the names changed, but what happened is still very clear. There are a lot of drag acts in Provincetown and after one of Varla's shows, a young guy came up him and said, "Varla! I got here a few days ago and I've seen your show, Penny Dreadful's show and Susan St. Loop's. And your show is by far….better than Susan St. Loop's." What the-? Jeff was so mortified because at the words "by far" he told me he was literally inhaling to say thank you for being told his was the best out of the three. Why the need to tell him he's solidly in the middle? Then, a few nights later, someone saw him after a show and said, "Varla! I saw you last night walking in back of the theatre. I've never seen you look so beautiful!" Jeff demurely thanked him. The guy went on and explained, "That light blue dress makes you look so young and stunning!" Jeff was about to thank him again but then thought for a moment and said, "Um… I don't have a light blue dress." Silence. He then was forced to clarify to the man "You must have seen Jinxx Monsoon." Basically the man was telling Jeff, "The one time I saw you look youthful and pretty was last night…and it wasn't you." Yay?

PS, here's Sarah Brightman's version of "Unexpected Song":

Anyhoo, after Alice's audition she went back to her fancy L.A. hotel because they had given her a ticket to see Sunset Boulevard that night and she had nothing to do til then. She said she it was really hot out so she stripped and was laying on the hotel bed, "nude and sweaty." Finally, she couldn't take the anxiety anymore so she called her agent. She normally doesn't do that but she wanted to know if he got any feedback. She spoke to his assistant and waited a really long time for him to come on the phone. When he did, he asked her the audition went. She told him everything and ended by saying she thought it went well. He then told her that the reason he took so long is because he was talking to The Really Useful Company and she got the gig. Yay! Here she is in Sunset with the original Joe, Alan Campbell:

Emily talked about how totally unexpected the Tony nominations for Side Show. were. The show had closed in January and months later, after totally moving on, they found out the show was up for Best Musical and they were up for Best Actress. Alice said it was very emotional wearing the Violet dress and wig again after so many months away and she felt overwhelmed. She barely had time to deal with her feelings before the two of them were called onstage to sing. Emily remembers feeling very gratified when she heard the incredibly warm response from the audience. But Alice was still emotional and thus the beginning of the song almost went off the rails. The start of "I Will Never Leave You" goes:

Alice: What have we done?
Emily: Lost our men.
Alice: Closed a door.
Emily: Opened more…

Well, instead of singing "What have we done?" Alice sang the first words of of her second phrase, which also paralleled what she was feeling. Yes, she was literally scared and therefore sang, "I'm scared, Daisy." Emily was supposed to follow the question "What have we done?" with the answer "Lost our men." But since Alice hadn't asked a question, Emily, with the timing of an improv star, changed a sentence fragment that would have made no sense to a full sentence: "We've lost our men." Alice then realizes things are off and hesitates before her next line "Closed a door" but finally sings it. When Emily gets to "Opened more" there was barely any time left to phrase and she's forced to speak it. Right after that, however, the song completely came together and they gave a fantastic performance. Watch! It's terrifying at first, then exhilarating!

I had a great time interviewing Roy Haylock who plays the drag character, Bianca Del Rio. Roy was on "Ru Paul's Drag Race" and told me what a great business person Ru Paul is; in order to audition, you have to film yourself lipsynching to two of Ru Paul's songs that you must buy from iTunes. Brava! I'm going to try that: In order to finish reading my column, order my new book, "The Rise And Fall Of A Theater Geek" right here. You may now continue.

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I asked if he lived in a big house with the other contestants. Turns out, he said they all had separate hotel rooms which sounds great, but they were basically prisoners. The show cuts off all outside communication. You can't have wifi, a laptop or a cell phone. Which, he says, is why all the contestants "go crazy." They're totally isolated so their emotions are extremely fragile. He, however, said he's old enough to remember what it was like before internet so he just relaxed with a book. And he knew that the show wanted to have info on him they would then use to make him cry/have a breakdown, but he wouldn't 'fess up anything when he'd be interviewed.

They'd ask "What's your family like?" He'd respond, "Amazing!" They'd ask "Any ex-boyfriends?" He'd respond, "Nope. Nobody." He also told us that the contestants were together in the studio but they were only allowed to talk each other when the cameras were on. So, they'd all eat lunch in the same place but it would be in complete silence. Again, this is why the contestants "go crazy." Regardless, whatever Roy did, he did it right, because he won the season! What's also amazing is his other work: he has no official degree in fashion yet for years, he worked at the Barbara Matera studio. If you don't know, that studio made costumes for tons and tons of Broadway shows. He was working with people who did costumes for shows like West Side Story and he'd heard many great show biz tales. He heard that one time Elaine Stritch brought in a bunch of her own clothes to be altered. They told her that it would cost quite a bit and she told them to bill Lincoln Center. Why? Well, she was performing in a concert for them. They explained that she would wear one outfit in the concert and this many, many of her own personal outfits. "Send the bill to Lincoln Center!" Well, they called Lincoln Center and told them that they were asked to alter a large amount of Elaine Stritch's everyday clothes and she wanted it billed to them.. The response? "Sigh.. Bill it to us. It's easier to pay for it than to argue with her." Brava! Roy also said he worked with a woman who was beading a beautiful dress that Patti LuPone was going to wear in one scene as Evita. The workshop was noisy and the woman couldn't quite hear clearly while she was applying multiple beads. And everyone had a New York accent. Thus, this conversation: COSTUMER: (putting beads on dress) What is this for?
OTHER COSTUMER: (yelling across the room) Evita!
COSTUMER: A beader? Well, she should do it herself then!

All right, everyone. Happy back to school!

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)

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