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Alice Ripley's grasp of her character is far from normal

November 20, 2010 | 11:30 am

NEW YORK -- In a rehearsal room several floors above 42nd Street, actress Alice Ripley had just finished crying her way through a scene in the musical “Next to Normal.” She was still sobbing when she started asking herself what she was doing.

“I can’t believe I said yes, I would do this again,” she says. “What was I thinking?”

Getting ready to portray bipolar suburbanite Diana Goodman on tour as she had on Broadway, Ripley knew what she was in for. “Playing Diana feels like I’m walking out into traffic,” she says. “You know that the bus is going to hit you, but you just have to step out in front of it anyway.”

So after leaving the Broadway production in July, the 46-year-old performer is preparing to again inhabit Diana, the role that won her a 2009 Tony and which she has played since its first readings and off-Broadway performances. Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama and three 2009 Tony Awards, “Next to Normal” opens at the Ahmanson Theatre on Nov. 28, launching a 36-week tour in the U.S. and Canada.

Ripley will be onstage in nearly every scene, sometimes lusty, sometimes comatose, plus singing a good percentage of the show’s nearly 40 songs. Like the musical itself, she’s alternately funny and spirited, angry and sad as she rollicks through a rock score punctuated with lyrical ballads and gentle melodies. At one point singing poignantly of the life she once had — “the manic, magic days and the dark, depressing nights” — she takes on pills, therapy and electric shock treatment to try to hold her family and herself together.

“Diana represents a real woman, with all the ups and downs that come with that,” Ripley says.  “It’s so realistic, it seems like a play to me. I forget that I’m singing. I got it right away, and I knew it was something I was ready for. ”

You can read more about Alice Ripley and “Next to Normal” in Arts & Books; click here.

-- Barbara Isenberg

Photo: Alice Ripley behind the scenes of the "Next to Normal" New York production, during her run there. Now she is in Los Angeles with the musical's tour. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times.