DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Tony Winner and Wild Animals You Should Know Star Alice Ripley

By Andrew Gans
25 Nov 2011

Ripley in Wild Animals You Should Know.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Do you think the play has a message or what does it say to you?
Ripley: When I read this play, it reminded me of The Crucible because there's this force that's being used basically for evil, really. I mean, sometimes, evil is wicked and that's kind of fun. The play allows the audience to giggle when the lights come up at the very beginning, so they're giggling, giggling. Then there are moments where everybody is just completely silent—nobody's breathing—because of what's being suggested on stage, which might be titillating, it might be thought-provoking… This show deals with this young boy who is pretty much bored and then this other person who becomes a victim of that. That's how I see it, and my role is that of the den mother, and I'm trying to organize things and encourage these boys. Marsha's role in that world is relatively small. She doesn't have too much of an impact on them. They have their own dynamic going on, all the boys and all the men.

Question: How does it compare for you, working on a play versus a musical?
Ripley: I think it's very similar, and I would venture to say that a well-written musical has a well-written play at its core that it can be distilled down to—the story and words. This play has comedy, it has rhythm to it, it has flow, and there's a musicality to the way the words come out and the way the phrases are joined together, juxtaposed. So, when I'm in rehearsal with Thomas and Trip and I have a line that says, "Because I did Cub Scouts with Matthew, I did the little kids part of it, but this is about becoming a…" They wanted to cut the "of it," so it would just say, "I did the little kids part," and it made total sense to me, immediately, because it just made it more musical the way the line came out and the way that there's a melody to the lines of your character and how they fit in with the other characters. Sometimes it takes a little while to figure that out. It's funny because the more complicated it is, the more you can get away with, but the more simple it is—like this play is very concise—the more diligent you have to be about that.

Ripley in Side Show.
photo by Joan Marcus

Being a part of that process in rehearsal, and being able to weigh in my idea of what a line might read or what a character might be thinking, it means a lot to an actor to be able to do that, even if the end result doesn't include your idea. It doesn't matter because you were there in the rehearsal room, in the moment, and you were contributing, and that's really what it's all about, for us, anyway, in rehearsal. When we get into performance, we're in a relationship with the audience. But when you're figuring it out, it's like playing volleyball or something. When you're working on a new piece like this, the actors have a little more of a say of their role—how they own the role—because of that. I've found that to be true, but that's true with a musical as well. I don't see them as much different, really. My favorite voice teacher told me that singing is just an extension of speaking, so you can fit that into the question about the play and musical and how they relate or how they differ. It's just an extension.

Question: Is the high or the emotional-release the same in doing a play as in a musical?
Ripley: Well, it's more extreme when you're in a 1,200-seat house and you're unzipping your soul for the audience to peer into, and it's a rock concert, which is what I was doing in Next to Normal. With Wild Animals You Should Know, I have a character that goes through change, and I show my vulnerability at the end, but it's not anywhere near as an intensified, prolonged performance as what I was doing in Next to Normal because Next to Normal, I didn't really ever leave the stage. I hardly ever left except to change clothes and at intermission. It was like a one-woman show—it felt that way. Of course, it wasn't, but I felt like I was out there the whole time. With this play, it's much more reasonable. [Laughs.] I have a few scenes, and then I can go up and paint my nails.

Question: I know everyone wants to do new musicals, but are there any classic musical roles you'd love to do on Broadway?
Ripley: Wouldn't it be fun for me to play Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard… for those of us who were around for the first one? [Laughs.] It would be fun, wouldn't it? I will admit that when I was in college and Evita had been out just a few years, I told myself back then, "By the time this is revived, I'll be the perfect age." At the time I didn't consider that I was about as Puritan as they get and not from Argentina. [Laughs.] However, I think that that score is such an awesome score, and it's a real challenge to imagine singing it. So, that's still really attractive to me, all these years later, that idea.

Question: I guess once you have a Tony, you're not going to want to be the matinee Eva.
Ripley: [Laughs.] Well, that's something that I might be adjusting in the future—how much of a break I get while I'm performing. How much of a break I get and how often I get it. It depends on what you're doing. With Wild Animals You Should Know, we could run on Broadway for five years and I would probably never miss a show. [Laughs.]

Question: Evita was the show I was hoping to get to see you in at some point.
Ripley: Well, you know, it's not too late and you never know what's going to happen. But, the idea of singing those phrases and telling that story, it really is a challenge. It would be a real challenge to portray her because she was unique and what she went through at the end… Because she's a real person, I think that would be tricky to get it right. When I go to schools and talk to students, I always tell them to steal—if you're going to do a role that's already been done—steal from the original or from whatever one you can actually look at or listen to because there's probably a reason why it was done that way… Coming through you it's going to be different than it was coming through that other person because you're different, so that's something that I try to remember. I would try to steal everything from Patti LuPone, as much as I possibly could.

Question: Can you talk about the Lifetime series?
Ripley: I did shoot a pilot called "Modern Love." It stars Eric Stoltz and Ally Sheedy and Mamie Gummer. It's just a pilot at this point, but I liked it very much. The script reminded me of "thirtysomething," which was always one of my favorites.

Question: Any recordings in the works or other projects you can talk about?
Ripley: Well, I'm about to do a couple of gigs before the end of the year probably at the Copacabana. I haven't told the Copacabana yet! [Laughs.] I'm thinking about that space. I was doing them at Dopo Teatro last summer, but I guess they're not doing them right now, but I would like to do a couple of gigs with my guitar, and I'm ready to record my next album. I've been practicing for a while—definitely ready to do that.

Question: What type of material will be on that?
Ripley: I don't know yet. I'm not sure if it's going to be all new material or another album of covers. If it will be covers, will it be just one artist? I haven't decided yet, but I definitely have a lot to choose from at this point, so that's nice to get up in the morning and play and think, "Hmmm… I like that one. I kind of like that one. How would they fit together? How would that work?" So, that will probably happen before the end of the year I would guess.

Question: Maybe you can get "Rainbow High" into that.
Ripley: Oh yeah, right. I'll bring Seth Rudetsky. He's a variable that must be there at some point in everybody's life… Whenever I think of Evita, I think of Seth Rudetsky. I don't imagine him as Evita, necessarily. [Laughs.] He brought me on to his show one time on Sirius and I sang "Rainbow High" with him and it was really fun. We had a great time doing that.

Question: I'd also love to hear you do the high parts in "A New Argentina."
Ripley: Oh, yeah. Well, I still do conjure up those lines when I'm warming up and in the shower and walking up stairways and stuff like that. You kind of just want to test what it feels like, and it still feels like Evita. [Laughs.] But I think I would [also] love to play Mrs. Lovett.

Question: I can see you playing that, too.
Ripley: And, I just think it would be a nice story if I played Norma. And, then I can play Max at some point… [Laughs.] If I ever shave my head.

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Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.