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InDepth InterView: Alice Ripley on NEXT TO NORMAL Tour & A Career Retrospective

Over the course of our ninety minute conversation earlier this week, Tony-winning Broadway star Alice Ripley was kind enough to open up about her role in the phenomenon of the Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical NEXT TO NORMAL, which is now kicking off a US Tour beginning in Los Angeles, as well as offer thoughts on many of her significant stage roles that she has taken on over the course of her impressive and varied career. Pete Townshend and THE WHO'S TOMMY to Andrew Lloyd Webber and SUNSET BOULEVARD and TELL ME ON A SUNDAY, to Sondheim with COMPANY as the greatest Amy of all time, and even a turn in ROCKY HORROR; Alice Ripley has seemingly done it all, and her passion, dedication and insight into her craft are amply evident in both her studied performances on stage as well as in discussing the art of acting in musical theatre in conversation and what she has taken as her inspirations to play Diana Goodman, ranging from Albee to O'Neill to actors like Cynthia Nixon, Toni Collette and more. In this portion of her most comprehensive interview to date, BroadwayWorld is proud to present Part I of InDepth InterView: Alice Ripley.

Here is the first part, a particularly NEXT TO NORMAL-centric section, of the complete interview coming next week. In Part II, now available here, we further discuss Ripley's extensive recording career and offer a comprehensive look at her new album, DAILY PRACTICE, as well as take a look back at her unforgettable performances in Stephen Sondheim's COMPANY and Andrew Lloyd Webber's TELL ME ON A SUNDAY at the Kennedy Center, and much, much more!

InDepth InterView: Alice Ripley - Part I

Feeling Electric

PC: Diana in NEXT TO NORMAL is the Rose/GYPSY of the twenty-first century. How do you keep up your stamina to do that role every night? How do you maintain your voice?

AR: I have a system that I have to follow pretty closely to maintain my energy. And, in the morning, I'm usually recovering from her. From Diana.

PC: That must be hell.

AR: It's all totally worth it, though! Laughs.

PC: At least to the audience. Actually, how did you first experience the show?

AR: Oh, well my first encounter with Diana was Tom Kitt's messages on my answering machine. It must have been about, I don't know, eight years ago. He was leaving me messages saying, "I have this new piece that I'd like you to work on." And, I was always busy! Laughs.

PC: Yes, you were! Twelve roles in ten years.

AR: Yeah, so I didn't say yes.

PC: You were in a corner, though. It wasn't your choice.

AR: But, then, finally I could say yes and, when I did, I was then presented with the material.

PC: What was your immediate reaction to it?

AR: As soon as I saw the raw material I knew it was something I wanted to work on.

PC: So, was it FEELING ELECTRIC at this point?

AR: Yeah.

PC: That version of the show has some amazing songs that I cannot believe they cut - especially the title song. There's almost two complete scores at this point, isn't there?

AR: Good question. I wonder how many songs are in the trunk of "Songs That Are Not Actually In The Show Now, But Used To Be In The Show."

PC: Like "Costco".

AR: The cool thing about when that happens, when a song is in a piece and then it's cut: if you are working on it at the time, even though the song is cut, it is still there inside your memory of the experience.

PC: It's still a spot on the journey of the character, just not a part the audience sees.

AR: Even though the songs aren't in the show anymore, I still hold the experience of what they accomplished - for the action, for the character - I still hold that inside. So, that's an added bonus to the songs being cut - it's kind of a way of filling in details, but you don't actually have to do the songs to get there. It's a part of the process that makes it more satisfying.

PC: Like a more fully-painted portrait that you can then reflect in your performance - and it shows. Were there any particularly painful cuts?

AR: The songs that were cut from the show after we were at Second Stage - "Feeling Electric", "Costco". "Costco" was a favorite.

PC: For me, too. What was your reaction when you found out you were going to lose that moment?

AR: Laughs. Well, I was really happy when it was cut because it was really hard to do!

PC: How do you get into that Diana mode every night? It must be very challenging.

AR: Well... Pause. Diana rules my day, mostly. But, I'm finding it easier to discover ways to be Alice and when I'm more Alice throughout the day, my day is easier. Because, you know, Diana is more dramatic and... Laughs.... high-maintenance than I am.

PC: From an acting perspective, are there actresses in certain roles - I'm thinking Toni Collette on THE UNITED STATES OF TARA or Liza Minnelli in THE STERILE CUCKOO - that you drew any inspiration from when approaching playing Diana?

AR: Well, I would answer that question by saying that there are certain actors that impress me and inspire me continually, whatever they are in. Pause. I would say that Cynthia Nixon is somebody I admire. And, Toni Collette, as well. Those women; their work inspires me, whatever they do.

PC: Why, exactly? Their daringness?

AR: It's the way that they approach the material and the material that they choose. In that way, I am definitely looking to other actors for cues in certain ways. But, for me, my experience with Diana: I really credit the writers and my director [Brian Yorkey, Tom Kitt and director Michael Grief].

PC: What a multi-layered role they created for you. How would you describe the relationship between you and them?

AR: The writers give me the raw materials, without which I have nothing. Then, the director - my director, Michael - he has adjusted me to the point where it's just right, because I don't know what it's like for me to be Diana before I am her. I don't know what it's like to experience her life. She has challenges that I don't have. So, I have to invent these challenges and then invent these ways of dealing with them.

PC: Like what?

AR: Like when she hallucinates onstage. I mean, I'm just making it up! I've never hallucinated like she does. But, my director is the one who I go to and he's the one that tells me that, you know, "This is right," or, "This needs to be adjusted."

PC: Could you recount one moment of approaching one of those challenges, how you both dealt with it, and how it is reflected in the final version of the show now?

AR: Well, the whole show is just filled with moment after moment after moment after moment; they were all challenges. All challenges - staging challenges, a challenge to get the meaning across to the audience without going too far in one direction or the other. The material is very intense.

PC: You can say that again! You imbue it with so much humanity and heart, though. It never rings false.

AR: Basically, Michael guided us to just think of living the show onstage.

PC: Organically. Real.

AR: Living it, as much as we could, in the moment. Being as real with that as we can. I think that if I am looking for cues from anything, it would be from other plays that I've read or other roles that I'd like to play or plays that I'd like to be involved with.

PC: Any roles in particular?

AR: A play like [WHO'S AFRAID OF] Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee.

PC: Amazing.

AR: BURIED CHILD by Sam Shepard.

PC: You could be fascinating in that, as well.

AR: LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT by Eugene O'Neill. All of these I carry with me everywhere I go when I am doing work on Diana. These plays are the basis of why I am an actor; these are the ones I worked on in college and some of the first plays that I ever read. Also, I think that what these plays illustrate - as a group and individually - about the American nuclear family is very informative when it comes to my work with Diana. Because, you know, I see the Goodmans as another one of those families like the ones in the plays I mentioned.

PC: How illuminating!

AR: I think what happens in that household to that family is more common than people understand.

PC: Without a doubt.

AR: Not the exact events... but, the idea of dealing with life. Putting the "fun" back in functional Laughs.... something like that.

PC: It's funny you mention Albee, because I recently interviewed your NEXT TO NORMAL tour castmate Preston Sadleir about his role in the newest Albee play ME, MYSELF & I [Note: the complete text of the play has just been published in the December issue of AMERICAN THEATER].

AR: I had no idea he was doing that! I'm going to have to, now, you know, try to squeeze some information out of him about Edward Albee

PC: So, you're a big Albee fan?

AR: Oh, yeah. He's one of my favorites. I've always looked to that play, Virginia Woolf, for a cue - as far as any cue I might need as an actor for inspiration, or as a writer. Those characters in that play - I think the Goodmans are like that, too.

PC: In what ways?

AR: They represent, on the surface, a very specific kind of character. But, when you look more closely, you see more. Martha [in Virginia Woolf] is a conglomeration of people - lots of different types of women all in one - but somehow you can never see the seams. And, I think that's why she's an archetype.

PC: Just like Diana.

AR: I see the Goodmans as an archetype, as well. Or, as archetypes.

PC: Speaking of Albee, are there any roles of his you'd love to take on? I could easily see you in THREE TALL WOMEN as Woman B.

AR: Well, that's... I mean, I'd say yes to probably anything as long as it meant I got to be in the room with him. But, I think that Martha is the one I really want to do.

PC: You could kill it. I can see it now.

AR: Laughs. I understand that, yeah, I'll probably have to wait a little while longer to be ready to play her, but, for me, that's the fun of being an actor!

PC: The readiness is all.

AR: You know, you find a play that's fantastic and you start studying it. Pause. It takes a while... it takes years and years to get ready for a good role. And, Diana is a good example of that. I mean, I'm probably too young to play Martha now, but someday I won't be!

PC: You have another ten years or so to go, I think.

AR: When it happens, I will have, you know, read the play several times Laughs.... I will have already worked on her monologues and everybody's monologues. I would bring this enthusiasm and whatever I have acquired, knowledge-wise, with me. That's what's fun about being an actor. The older I get the more fun it is because I've had more time to get my act together before I get in the room with somebody like Edward Albee.

PC: From the sublime to the ridiculous, I also recently spoke to another of your past castmates, this one from ROCKY HORROR: Tom Hewitt. He was telling me how crazy it all was. What's the wildest audience antic you remember from the run?

AR: Oh, my God. Every single night! Laughs. That show was a challenge for me because it was a dichotomy. There were trained actors - I was, we all were - and I think Tom Hewitt is one of the best actors in New York.

PC: What was the dichotomy?

AR: Well, there we were, kind of slightly over-qualified, maybe, for what we were doing, but in rehearsal we were very excited. Jarrod Emick and I were very excited about singing "Dammit, Janet" and throwing the bouquet and everything and it was going to be so much fun.

PC: But, then?

AR: I found that the audience... Pause. The audience treated the show like a rock concert. I mean, one time a lady rushed the stage and took her shirt off. She came onstage and took her shirt off.

PC: No way!

AR: Way. Jarrod thought this was hilarious. But, I got irritated, like "I'm just trying to do my job!" I guess I shouldn't have taken it too seriously. I mean, it's ROCKY HORROR. The audience is supposed to do that. We want them to do it. It's weird when they don't do it.

PC: So, it was a bit of a bumpy ride to do that show?

AR: That show... that was a challenge for me, the breaking of the fourth wall when the audience comes to you. Laughs. Where they're squirting me in the face with a squirt-gun.

PC: The Phantoms - Matt Morrison included - were pretty interactive with the audiences in the front few rows, though!

AR: The cast was a great cast. We really got along well.

PC: So, how do you wrap up your experience on that show in a nutshell?

AR: It was fun. But, like I said, it was a challenge in some ways. Playing Janet, that was a great break for me because that was one of the first times I was allowed to be funny. Before that, I played mostly more serious roles.

PC: It was a great production. And, you got to show your other side. Do you feel it really prepared you for COMPANY and comedy roles?

AR: Well, I do think that when Chris Ashley cast me as Janet I remember feeling like this was a breakthrough for me, personally, because I couldn't remember ever having been cast in the role where I get to be funny. When I would audition for a musical, I would always be cast in the ingenue role - the soubrette was somebody else. The Faith Prince role was played by Faith Prince and I played the ingenue. You know, I always wanted to play the other role!

PC: The grass is always greener with leads versus character roles.

AR: I wanted to do Ado Annie, not Laurey. And, while Janet is not Ado Annie, Janet was my way of playing both in the same character. She starts out as the ingenue and ends up in her underwear at the end.

PC: How do you sum up your experience on SUNSET BOULEVARD? For many people in their mid-twenties - as Scarlett Johansson personally told me - it was one of our first and favorite shows and our first exposure to you.

AR: It's wonderful memory for me. That was a really, really wonderful production. I felt proud of my work and everybody's work. And, it was a breakthrough for me because, suddenly, I had a role in a musical and I wasn't in the background, which is what I had been doing in New York up until that moment. Now, actually, I'm thinking that when they revive SUNSET BOULEVARD, who else but me should play Norma? Laughs.

PC: It's time for a Broadway revival! You'd be great.

AR: I mean, I might be a little young for it now, but Norma's not that old. She's in her fifties, or something.

PC: "Nothing wrong with being fifty, unless you're playing twenty!"

AR: It's all relative to who plays Joe and how young he is, anyway. That would be great, because there would be the kitsch factor of I played Betty, then I played Norma and then I can play Max.

PC: You could even have your NEXT TO NORMAL cast-mate play Joe, Aaron Tveit? Too young?

AR: It's crossed my mind, definitely! Laughs.

PC: He's going to be huge. Tell me about working with him every night for a few years. What a performance he gives in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, too.

AR: He is just one of those talents that whatever he does is going to be golden. Whatever he does, I am going to want to watch. He's one of those actors that's totally watchable. As a person, he's incredibly kind and genuine.

PC: Speaking of kind and genuine, could you tell me about working with Michael John LaChiusa on LITTLE FISH?

AR: I love Michael John. Pause. He's one of a kind, definitely. Just thinking about him makes me want to giggle! Laughs.

PC: How did you first start working with him?

AR: Well, he's dear friends with a director - her name is Kirsten Sanderson - and she directed me in LITTLE FISH. Back in the days when I was doing SUNSET, we were at the Minskoff and right across the street at the Marquis was VICTOR/VICTORIA. One day, I came out of the stage door of the Minskoff and Kirsten - I had never met her, I didn't know her, I had never seen her face before - she was standing there at the stage door and said, "I am Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards's assistant and I am also working on this new Michael John LaChiusa piece. Do you know who he is?" And, I don't know anybody, so I was like, "Not really." So, she goes, "He has this new piece, LITTLE FISH, that he's working on." This was way back then!

PC: So, like 1995.

AR: Right. You know, I was still an ingenue.

PC: So you said yes?

AR: She said, "Would you work on this piece with me?" And, again, I looked at the material and I decided right away that this was really interesting. I can relate to this. I like the music very much. As soon as I started to work in the workshops with Kirsten and Michael John, I knew right away that this was a role I was supposed to play, I don't know when or where. It really fit like a glove. Then, several years went by before it was produced and when it was finally produced, it was done at Second Stage and Jennifer Laura Thompson played Charlotte.

PC: And Graciele Daniele directed.

AR: I ended up not doing it onstage until it came to Los Angeles. When they did it at the Blank a few years ago, that's when we all kind of reconvened and we had our "Let's put on a show!" moment. "Let's do the show together again!" Laughs.

PC: Thank goodness you did, if only so it could be recorded for posterity.

AR: Kirsten is affiliated with the Blank Theater here in Hollywood, which is a tiny little black box. So, we did it there and it was on a shoestring budget and it was just great. It was wonderful. Then, as you know, it was recorded so there is a recording forever as well.

PC: It's one of Michael John's most fun scores.

AR: Michael John has been working on a new show based on THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE.

PC: And MAID OF THE MIST premiering next year.

AR: Right, and MAID OF THE MIST.

PC: Is there a role in that for you?

AR: I think that anything he does I would be interested in. I can say that right now because I like working with him; I like being in the room with him. So, I wouldn't be surprised if we do something together again in the near future.

PC: I'd kill to see you as Queenie in THE WILD PARTY or as the Actress in SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE. Are you familiar with either?

AR: I saw THE WILD PARTY at the Blank with Valerie Pettiford.

PC: Did you enjoy the show? Would you consider that role?

AR: Oh, yeah, I would. Definitely. As I said, I think anything Michael John has written or will write I would be interested in working on. I think that his work is definitely ahead of his time. The characters, especially - where they come from and how they express themselves is unique in musical theatre. His musical world is unique as well, in a good way. I like when writers, you know, shatter the form. Not the form, but the way the story is delivered. How the character comes across and the choices that the character makes, he takes risks with that and that's what's really interesting to me.

PC: His shows have balls, especially in the complex musical language. As does NEXT TO NORMAL. Do you think there is a place for popular music of today, like that in NEXT TO NORMAL, on Broadway?

AR: I think there's a real possibility for it to come back around where Broadway is back on the radio.

PC: What do you think is the answer? What will speed up that process? Unless we want to count GLEE, NEXT TO NORMAL and BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON are it, and that show is closing soon, too.

AR: There was a time, the Golden Era of musical theatre and right before that, where the songs were on the radio. "Some Enchanted Evening", Cole Porter before that. They were popular music choices. They were what people wanted to listen to when they went dancing with a live band. Irving Berlin. Those were all popular songs. They all wrote for the musical theatre, as well. I don't know how long it will take for it to come back around.

PC: How do you classify NEXT TO NORMAL's score against those?

AR: NEXT TO NORMAL is rock music. It's a rock opera. That, definitely, has a place in popular music.

PC: TOMMY to JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR to AMERICAN IDIOT and NEXT TO NORMAL.

AR: Now, bringing together the two audiences, I don't know how to do that. That's the trick. The funny thing is, they are the same audience. They just have no idea. They are looking in one direction for their popular music and they are looking in one direction for their theatre, but it is the same set of ears. I think that's why GLEE is doing so well.

PC: Musical theatre is an integral part of American culture. The American songbook is mostly theatre music.

AR: There has never been a better time for musical theatre to be popular music than right now; for that wheel to come back around.

PC: Why do you think that is?

AR: First of all, because everything repeats itself; it's time for it to happen again. Also, because the music industry has been expanding and digital music has allowed for niche radio stations - like Broadway XM/Sirius - and, as those things become more popular, those stations, and more musicals are written, like NEXT TO NORMAL, then I think it's inevitable that, eventually, the two roads will converge. It will be popular music is theatre music, again. It's kind of already happening.

PC: You see it in your fans and the fans of NEXT TO NORMAL?

AR: Yeah, and the generation that adores RENT would tell you that it's been happening for awhile. Because, you know, they listen to RENT and it shuffles on their iPod with, you know, Adam Pascal's solo CD. They just love him because he's a great singer and he's a great performer and they just want to see him do everything he does and to hear him sing everything he sings.

PC: And, then, your solo album will come up because you're both on the same label, Sh-K-Boom!

AR: Laughs. Sh-K-Boom is a company that also has, you know, Ghostlight Records, that makes a lot of cast albums and they release popular albums, as well. Kurt Deutsch is the founder and I was the second person to sign up to make an album with him after his wife, Sherie [Rene Scott].

PC: Could you tell me about working with him on a new label like that?

AR: I noticed right away, I thought it could actually be something that really does bring these two worlds together. And, Kurt does think of Sh-K-Boom sort of like a bridge bridging the gap between music and musical theatre - the popular music world and the theatrical world - and I kind of represent, in human form, that bridge because I grew up listening to pretty much exclusively every kind of music but theatrical music. I didn't really listen to musical theatre.

PC: None at all?

AR: My dad had an album of THE MUSIC MAN and my mom had an album of Jacques Brel. The ones that we had in the record collection I memorized, but I was listening to rock music. Pause. I ended up doing musical theatre, almost exclusively. Laughs.

PC: So, doing THE WHO'S TOMMY must have meant a lot to you.

AR: TOMMY was my first Broadway show. Long Pause. I don't know how you can surpass the excitement or get more excited or feel more on top of the world than when you are sitting in a room singing The Who and Pete Townshend is sitting there tapping his foot. Laughs.

PC: That's making it big right off the bat, right?

AR: You really feel like you're doing what you're supposed to be doing at that point. TOMMY was really fun to do. TOMMY is a rock opera and I feel like NEXT TO NORMAL is another one.

PC: Same family, pardon the puns.

AR: NEXT TO NORMAL feels like an opera because the second act is almost completely sung-through. The story is seamlessly told, especially in the second act, through songs that dovetail like a beautiful piece of furniture where the corners all fit just right. That feels like an opera to me, because when I'm singing I forget that I'm singing and feel like I'm just talking. I kind of forget that, yeah, this is completely sung-through. The story is told so clearly.

PC: It comes across conversational, somewhere between music and speech. That Tony Awards clip puts that across so brilliantly well. Do you feel like you are doing something really unique when you perform the show every night with such a unique musical language that is so expressive?

AR: I do.

PC: Do you remember filming that performance for the Tony Awards broadcast?

AR: I'm... Pause. so moved by the way that our piece, NEXT TO NORMAL, is received by somebody like a crew that works on the Tony Awards backstage. You know, the people with all the headsets. The way that they approach the material and the way that they treated us, you could see they respect this piece and they respect what we are doing with it. They wanted to capture it in the very best way. You know, when you do that kind of a television production, like the Tony's, it's very fast and you don't have very much rehearsal.

PC: The new camera blocking alone must be a hurdle.

AR: It's totally different. It's like doing a different show, in a way, to do something for television. But, the way that number was captured by the crew at the Tony Awards, to me, really set the stage for the way the show was going to be by everybody - which is, with respect and awe: And excitement, that they get to be a part of bringing it to a larger audience. It involves everyone in it somehow.

PC: Do you think it's integral to have clips like that available on YouTube and BroadwayWorld and for the show to perform on talk shows and what not?

AR: Yes, I do. And, I also think that NEXT TO NORMAL has some TV appearances that are still out there for us. I mean, I'm just dreaming them up, but, we haven't gotten to the day where we all go on the Oprah Show. When do we get to do something for the First Family? I mean, I think that kind of thing will happen. I really do.

PC: So, the Pulitzer wasn't the apotheosis of the NEXT TO NORMAL phenomenon, in your opinion, then?

AR: It's a groundswell this show has been riding on and I've noticed it from the beginning. You know, even from the beginning of this conversation just now, you and me, I was telling you about Tom Kitt leaving messages on my answering machine back when I still had an answering machine! Laughs.

PC: It's your destiny to do this show. And, maybe, to have this conversation!

AR: Laughs. You know, back then, when we would do the workshops and there were thirty people in the room - and they were all friends and family and people we know - they would all be crying at the end. And, of course, I would be crying, too, and I'd think to myself, "Well, this is not going to be like this every time. Eventually, it's not going to make people cry every time we do it." But, it does. It does.

PC: So, you are really crying? Every performance?

AR: I do. Every time I play Diana. Pause. It's never a struggle for me. You know, "Where is the emotion going to come from?" That's the easiest part!

PC: Why do you think this is the case for you?

AR: Because the story that is told resonates in a huge way. It really resonates with me. And with the creators. And, with the audience.

PC: The audience is really a character in the show - but, not a ROCKY HORROR type of way. You feel part of the family by the end.

AR: I think it is going to continue to be that way as we tour. I won't be surprised if it just becomes more and more desirable, the idea of going to see our show. I know a lot of people know about us, but there are a lot of people that don't! Laughs. So, I'm excited about the ones who haven't discovered us yet.

PC: And the original Tony-winning Broadway star doing the tour is a rarity these days. Is that something you definitely wanted to do, to put your mark on the role on Broadway and everywhere else?

AR: Yes. In all honesty, what happened was my boss - I call him my boss because he's the reason I have a paycheck - he said to me, "This is what I think is a good idea for you: Why don't you take some time off and then come on tour with us?" I was at the Booth at the time. It took me about two seconds to realize that was a really great idea, mainly because I get another shot at Diana and another shot at getting the chance to play her. Because, you know, that challenge is something I've never encountered before. How could I not take another chance to do it?

PC: You are an actor first. Do you find that you attack a role like Diana as an actor, then as a singer, then as a performer? Or, considering you call it an opera, is it voice first in this case?

AR: You know, it's funny you say that because if I had known about the fact that I would playing Diana, if I had known about it a few years before I actually started I would have studied her for a few years. Because, you know, when I was in college and I was studying opera, my teachers taught me that this is what you do: you study these opera, you study these arias. It takes you a while to learn how to sing them!

PC: The repertoire.

AR: Yeah, you can't just walk into a production of, I don't know, THE MAGIC FLUTE or something, and expect to get it in just a couple of weeks. No. That's not how they do it. Those opera singers show up and they know those roles - or, at least, they know the major arias. You have to, because it's often in a foreign language. In other words: there is training involved.

PC: So you did not feel prepared for Diana at the outset?

AR: When I started with Diana, I thought that I was ready but I didn't have any idea what it was going to ask of me, just the process of playing Diana. If I would have been able to study her ahead of time, I would have. If I could have, I would have. After I started playing her, it took me a couple of years of playing her to be able to actually do it all the time. I'm at that point now.

PC: So, you're more ready for the challenge than ever?

AR: I'm glad that I get to be able to be the one to take Diana out on the road because, for me, it's going to be growing experience and I want to be the one to deliver to the audience this character. I feel very protective of this character.

PC: As you should be. It's your role.

AR: I feel like the audience is going to be glad it's me giving them Diana because I'm the one that's played her so many times. Again, I think you have to do it for awhile - to play Diana for awhile - before it really comes together. At least, that was my experience.

PC: What about a filmed performance? Is that being considered?

AR: You know, I've been dreaming about that for a couple years. If it actually would happen, I have no idea. I do hope there is a film of NEXT TO NORMAL because I would love to know it's having an even wider influence and impact than it is now. If it was a film, it would saturate the population with this story. I think that would be a great reason to do it, because the story needs to be told and it's something that has not been told before. It has an incredible healing effect - anybody that's in the room, the people witnessing it and the people doing it. Anybody that's in the room when NEXT TO NORMAL happens is effected in a positive way by it.

PC: You would know, maybe even more than the creators!

AR: Well, I can say all that as a definitive statement because I've played her six hundred times! Laughs.

PC: Have you kept count? Is it that much? It must be, by this point.

AR: Laughs. I don't keep count. I definitely talk in Laughs. exaggerated generalities.

PC: Do you know anything about the Rob Reiner film version?

AR: I don't. Any kind of specifics about that kind of question would just be my dream ideas. But, all good things start in dreams. It's been in my mind because I want to get the story out to a lot of people because I can see the potential for good of that as far as the soul of the country. I mean, imagine if there was a film for NEXT TO NORMAL out there. I would feel good about the movie business, you know? Like, that was a smart movie to make. It's timely and it does bring several worlds together. I've never met anybody who experienced it who wasn't moved in a profound way.

PC: It is really ahead of its time, even now, even though it was written - a lot of it, at least - ten years ago or more.

AR: Well, when it was FEELING ELECTRIC, that was over ten years ago. When they first came up with the idea to write this musical, Brian and Tom, they decided to come up with the most impossible subject matter they could imagine.

PC: And they succeeded!

AR: Laughs. And it's fantastic!

PC: What's your favorite moment onstage every night?

AR: Well... Pause. I do think my favorite moment is when I sing "I Miss The Mountains". There are a lot reasons why that's true, but I think the most important one is that that is the moment where I get to sit on my heels and sing. Just sing. I don't have to do anything, there are no props - well, in the first half there are no props - and I get to just sit, breathe and relax. I get to address the audience and reflect, it's my first sort of reflective moment as Diana. And, for me, for Alice, I get to just be still for a moment, which I appreciate. And, the song I adore.

PC: You'd sung it before, right?

AR: I sang the song years before the show was ever produced. When I work on material in workshops, I often will find a song that I have to take with me and I start singing it in auditions and concerts and sometimes it ends up on a record. "I Miss The Mountains" was actually on my album with Emily Skinner, RAW AT TOWN HALL.

PC: Speaking of great songs from workshops on that album: the English premiere recording of "You Have To Be There"!

AR: I first did that when I was working on KRISTINA. That was the one that I took with me and I decided that "I need to sing this. People need to hear this song," because KRISTINA hasn't been produced on Broadway.

PC: The end of that song on that album is absolutely chilling. No touch-ups on that album, either, right - thus the "raw"?

AR: Yeah, that's why we decided to call it RAW AT TOWN HALL. When we first listened to it, we looked at each other and we were like, "Well, you know, it's not perfect but if we put the word "raw" in the title, people will forgive the flaws." Laughs.

PC: You really reinvented that song. It'd be impossible to match the original, but you somehow top it. Thank you for recording it.

AR: Thank you so much for that, because Helen is just, her voice is just incredible. I love the sound of her on the Swedish album. To have worked with Benny and Bjorn [of ABBA], they had always been my heroes as a songwriter. I think that they are incredible and they are really great guys, too. So, I was just happy that I had Benny's e-mail and I could just send him an e-mail and say, "Do you mind if I record this song of yours?" Laughs.

PC: Have you ever done Florence in their other musical, CHESS?

AR: I've done concert versions, but I've never done a production of it.

PC: Your voice is perfect for that role. Would you consider it?

AR: Pause. Yeah, I would.

PC: Benny and Bjorn are the melody kings.

AR: KRISTINA is just beautiful. The whole score. I am just enchanted by it. Benny has also recorded some solo albums with his band and I am addicted to them. They sound totally different from any of their other albums.

PC: What albums would you like to make in the future? A Christmas album?

AR: Why not! Laughs. I don't think there's any record I wouldn't make as long as I had a say on how it was put together and recorded. I love being in the studio.

PC: UNSUSPECTING HEARTS is such a great album, with a bunch of rare songs. I love "Live With Somebody You Love" from MARTIN GUERRE and "Unsuspecting Hearts" from CARRIE, in particular.

AR: Emily and I really enjoyed putting those albums together and choosing what songs to do. We kind of just threw them together. We made those recordings real quick.

PC: The new "Solid Silver Platform Shoes" that Stephen Schwartz rewrote for you guys...

AR: Laughs. Emily had to have that one!

PC: And the gong at the end of "Enough is Enough"? Who's idea was that?

AR: Laughs. I think that at that point, we were just throwing things on the track saying, "How about this?" "Yeah!" How about this? "Sure!" How about this? "Yeah!"

PC: All three of your duet albums are great, some of the best.

AR: You know, it's funny how those albums came to be. I was just telling this story last night. After SIDE SHOW closed, it closed real quickly, and Emily and I were looking at each other like "Now what are we gonna do?" And all these audience members were saying, "Wait, aren't you guys going to sing together? Don't you have an album? We want to hear you sing!" So, at the time, I was pretty much the queen of the Judy Kuhn fanclub because she had left SUNSET in LA because she was about to have a baby, so I was cast as Betty for the Broadway production. I always feel very grateful to her daughter for that. Laughs.

PC: And her husband!

AR: Laughs. At the time, Judy had her album out and I remember thinking, "Judy has everything! She has a baby, she had this role, she has an album out" so I just called Bruce Kimmel cold and it took him about two hours to call me back and say, "OK. What songs should we do?" Then, they asked us to make another one. Then, we did our show at Town Hall we did the live album. Bruce Kimmel is the reason those albums exist, really, because he said yes.

PC: And you also recorded "Another Hundred People" on his SONDHEIM album.

AR: Yes, I did. But, you know, it doesn't get any better than Stephen Sondheim's work!

Stay tuned BWW for Part II coming next week, and all things NEXT TO NORMAL!



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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)