BWW Interview: Alice Ripley of ALL SONDHEIM at The Bijou Theatre
Tony Award winner Alice Ripley debuts at The Bijou Theatre for the first time in over a year with a brand new show! In Alice Ripley: All Sondheim, the multi-talented star of Broadway's Next to Normal, Sunset Boulevard, The Who's Tommy, SideShow, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show explores the provocative lyrics and enduring melodies of songs written by the legendary Stephen Sondheim. Ms. Ripley has gathered some of her favorites - and will even revisit classic Sondheim characters she's played, remembering anecdotes along the way. From "Worst Pies In London" to "Getting Married Today"... from "Losing My Mind" to "Rose's Turn"... from "Being Alive" to "The Ladies Who Lunch"... this is a show you do NOT want to miss. Spend a night celebrating Stephen Sondheim with one of the Great White Way's favorite stars.The Bijou Performing Arts Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to providing visual and performing arts programs and events for the community. Private donations, grants, tuition fees & ticket sales fund the Bijou Arts Center, which is located at 275 Fairfield Avenue in Downtown Bridgeport. The Bijou Theatre, one of the oldest buildings in the country used as a movie house, reopened its doors in 2011. In addition to continuing its historic character of showing movies, the Theatre offers a full repertoire of live music, comedy, theater and dance, which can be enjoyed in either theater seating or cabaret style. The Bijou Theatre is a multi-functional venue with integrity and an open-minded philosophy- a symposium for film, theatre, art, comedy and music. The Theatre is available for private rentals, holiday parties, corporate events, and much more. For further information, call (203) 332-3228 or visit thebijoutheatre.com (http://thebijoutheatre.com/) . THE BIJOU EXPERIENCE The nation's oldest movie house reopened its box office in 2011 to bring performing arts back to center stage in historic Bridgeport. The Bijou Theatre, with its intimate 200-seat supper club atmosphere, curates live entertainment from all over the country and includes a sensational repertoire of music, theatre, comedy, art and film. For more information visit
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I had the chance to talk to Ms. Ripley and was fascinated with her vast knowledge of vocal technique and her understanding of the repertoire she sings! Plus she is warm and open, which definitely comes across in her performances.
Hi Alice! It is so great to talk to you after all these years!
How are you doing? How's everything in the Kitt household?
Oh, you know, we are all doing crazy awesome things amongst ourselves, as you know. That makes fodder for all the wonderful shows, right? Anyway, this is so exciting! You're going to be in my "almost" hometown. I live near Bridgeport, Connecticut!
Tell me, what is your hometown?
I live near Greenwich, Connecticut.
Oh my gosh, look at that. I've never been to Bridgeport before. I've never even seen this theater. It's supposed to be beautiful.
How did you get involved with The Bijou Theatre?
Christine Brown. She's the owner and she contacted me through Facebook, which is what's great about social media. It takes out the few steps it might take otherwise to reach somebody and figure out something like this so I'm very excited. I'm bringing my friend, Jessica Means, who is my accompanist.
I was going to ask you who your music director is.
I was going to ask your brother if he would guest. I don't know if he would come in and play "I Miss the Mountains" for me. I've asked him before so I'll just keep asking. Sometimes he hasn't been available.
Maybe someday! Perhaps you will make Connecticut a routine venue for your shows!
I'm just going to get in my car and pick up my ladies, Jessica Means, who plays for me, and Manuela DelCampo, who's my guest star. She played Natalie in "Casi Normales" y "Next to Normal" in Buenos Aries.
It's funny. There was so much I wanted to ask you about all that stuff. I know you went out there and I remember when you performed "Light" with the Buenos Aries cast at Lincoln Center.
Oh, God, it was so amazing!
It seems like Argentina has really embraced Next to Normal...
Kathryn, if we can get back there, even if it's just to relax and take everything in ... If we can get back there to do more Next to Normal, the audience was beyond anything I've ever experienced before.
Did you do the "Light" mash-up again? Where you performed it in English and Spanish?
I tell you. I don't want to make it sound like it's easy, because it's not ever going to be easy playing that show but the concert version is so much easier than doing the show, because you're just kind of like you turn into Tina Turner and cut loose. It's a break, just what I was allowed to do. It's great to have four of us there, the original cast, Louis Hobsen, me, Jennifer Damiano, and J.Bobby Spencer.
Yes, I saw that!
I was so excited to see all of it on the internet!
The audiences are ... It's hard to describe. Let's talk about it sometime. They're a breed in and of themselves.
You know my sister-in-law, Frida is from Argentina. She has family, who live out there. They were raving about the show!
We should come back immediately and make some music or do a show or write our own show. Let's do that. Kathryn. Why not? Two Pulitzer Prize winners in one family.
(Laughing) Yeah, that would never happen.....
Michael Greif staged a miracle!
It's one of the things that nobody will ever want to do.
I really never thought a topic like this would become a mainstream musical.
I know. Tom sent me the demo and it was Sherie Rene Scott, my friend because we had done Tommy together, and she was singing about pills and stuff. I was like, "Hmm, this is really an interesting idea for a musical."
I know, and now everybody is just so on board with it, even my nine-year-old. I felt like, "Oh my God, I can actually have a dialogue with her about all this stuff." Everybody grows up with some kind of dysfunction in their family and they don't ... Nobody wants to talk about it. Now it's all out there. You can talk about it and just really understand that it's not your fault that somebody's suffering from a mental disease.
They want to know about that kind of stuff. That is why I include "I Miss the Mountains" in every set I do.
It is your anthem, your "Over the Rainbow"
Yes, and you know, I mean, everybody can sing it but when I'm there people are like, "You have to sing that song." I've been singing it since before the show existed, too, so I might as well keep it in my repertoire.
I've learned something about it. It was interesting because I was going over it with Tom one day and he was even saying you were the one that decided to change keys at the bridge, at the modulation. I thought that was so interesting.
Then Michael Greif made it work because that was the moment when Diana gets up from the traditional staging and she goes over to the medicine cabinet. You know what happened to me recently? Tom was playing for me and the music was right in front of him. I don't know why he did this but he started out in the higher key, and then we got to the key change, he didn't change keys. So luckily I had sung it a million times. Even though people think that maybe it's not a big deal, but it really is. Half a step one way or the other, it can make or break the sound.
No, because you can't hook in right away. So tell me about your solo shows.
Over the past couple of years I've developed three sets, and I'm about to do another one with my friend, Emily Skinner. Any time you put a group of songs together like this All Sondheim, you have to do some kind of little script if you would imagine, other why are we here tonight right now? Or let's make this. You try to make it concise. For me, I always do best when I write it out specifically and memorize it and don't use the script. I've done that with three different sets over the past couple of years, and one of them is All Sondheim, and so that's what we're putting on at the Bijou. Tom Kitt aside - he's in his own category with me of course - Stephen Sondheim is one of my all-time favorite composers.
I have to address my favorite show of yours - SideShow. Your voice, when you first started out, you sounded like a high soprano. You were Violet, right?
I think Daisy and Violet in the version that we did, the original version, they shared pretty equally. We switched positions on the staff.
Did you? I could have sworn you were the high voice in there. You were always floating these high notes.
Probably but Emily Skinner sang plenty of high stuff in that, too. I remember, it was something that we did consciously. We slipped in the middle of the phrase or in the middle of the song.
So in the All Sondheim show, you are going to sing Mrs. Lovett, but would you ever do "Green Finch and Linnet Bird?" Do you think you could pull that out?
I played Joanna once and I also played Mrs. Lovett. I do a Sweeney Todd medley in the set, but the set is less about here's the songs I might have done and more about actually an evening of firsts and favorites. That's what I say in the beginning. For example, I told the story about the first Sondheim song I ever heard and take the audience through that experience, what it was like, and then I sing it, which happens to be "Send in the Clowns." Then there's a song I consider to be relatively obscure, "I Remember."
I LOVE that song.
I love it, too.
Then at the end I sing "Rose's Turn." Part of what's going on, one of the other sets that I've developed called Ripley Reflects, and that's looking back, and one's called Alice Imagines, and that's looking forward. That's where "Rose's Turn" would fit in because that's where I sing Norma Desmond and roles that I'd like to play it the future. So Rose is a role that's waiting for me to put that into my repertoire. I've never sang anything from Gypsy before. Now I sing "Rose's Turn" at the end. People say wow, they just love that score. It's a real fix for theater people.
Would you throw any West Side Story in?
No, not really. There's not really a role for me in that show, but one of the things I like to do is turn it around and sing a role, like I would sing "Something's Coming." If there were a song from West Side Story that I would do, it would be Something's Coming, but in a sense that put it in the right key for me and then do that one. There's not really a role for me in West Side Story so the only choice I have really is to work against the obvious, and my favorite song, which I think that's maybe my favorite song in the show.
Or I might pick something like "One Hand, One Heart" and turn it into a solo that's in a nice, comfortable jazz key, and do it like Ella Fitzgerald.
Are you enjoying it or do you find it kind of taxing, some of the stuff? I know that Stephen Sondheim writes so chromatically in lots of ways, I mean...
I am really enjoying it. I think I enJoy Sondheim so much because of the lyrics. The lyrics, the cornucopia of options.
So, will you take this show on the road?
We are going to be in Beverly Hills on December 11 at the Wallis Annenberg and we're doing the All Sondheim show. Jessica Means and I do all three of my shows together and we have developed them all together but the latest one is the All Sondheim show. It seems to be the favorite. I think it's my favorite of the three. I've had a few personal encounters with him but I could tell hopefully stories that will make you laugh. Thank you so much for covering this!
Of Course! I have been following you even before the "Kitt" years! Ok, Alice. Good luck with the show! I can't wait to see it! Thank you for talking with me!