There are few things I enjoy more than hearing Alice Ripley belt out a good ole show tune. So, when it was announced in early June that former Side Show co-stars Ripley and Emily Skinner would reunite for a concert evening at Town Hall Oct. 21, I quickly marked the date on my theatre-going calendar. Ripley, as I have written before, possesses one of the great voices of her generation, one that boasts a seemingly limitless belt range that is buttressed by a lovely soprano. She is also what I'd call a fearless singer, both in the keys in which she chooses to sing and in her interpretative choices. And, when she joins the equally talented Skinner in song, the tonal quality of their blended voices is thrilling.
"I needed some space, a little more sky and a new view maybe," Ripley joked by phone last week, explaining her decision to relocate to Los Angeles last year with husband, drummer Shannon Ford. "Los Angeles really suits my pace of life right now, so it's perfect." She also says auditioning for film and TV work in L.A. has been a thoroughly positive experience: "Auditions [in New York] had been getting stressful for me, and when I moved here, the shift that was required to go from theatre auditions to television auditions has been a positive change. I think I'm having more fun . . . going out for camera stuff. The camera auditions have renewed my joy in auditions all around — it shakes up the process a little bit in a good way."
When I last had the pleasure of chatting with Ripley, she was set to begin performances in the Paper Mill Playhouse's April 2005 production of The Baker's Wife, the ill-fated Stephen Schwartz musical best known for the ballad "Meadowlark," originally recorded by Patti LuPone and later tackled by Betty Buckley and Liz Callaway. Ripley's performance of that story song was as powerfully sung as it was beautifully acted, and she also impressed with her two other solos, "Gifts of Love" in the first act and the touching "Where Is the Warmth?" in the second. Her final scenes were also supremely moving, as she and the Baker reconcile while the townspeople welcome Genevieve back to their provincial village. About her time at the New Jersey theatre, Ripley says, "That was a special experience. The cast fell in love with each other, and I described it as 'jumping naked into a giant cream puff!' It really was delightful. I'm very grateful to have had the experience of playing Genevieve."
Although Ripley admits there is always "that secret hope" that a production may transfer to New York, she says, book writer Joseph Stein and composer Schwartz were "very pleased with what everybody did out at Paper Mill. It seemed to make them happy, [and] they didn't seem to feel like it needed to expand at all."
Currently, Ripley is focusing her attention on her songwriting and her new rock album "Outtasite," which is now available on iTunes, Pandora.com and CDbaby. The disc, she laughs, gives voice "to my inner demons. That's the unifying theme. It's noisy, but I think the lyrics have an impact." The recording features her self-titled band RIPLEY, which also includes husband Shannon and "my friend Chris Schelling, who plays keyboards and other sounds." Among the disc's 11 tracks — all penned by the singing actress — are such titles as "Miss America," "Wicked Torch," "Dangerous," "Ode to a Bad Guy" and "Dear Jane."
Ripley is also searching for an appropriate Los Angeles venue where she and her band can perform their new work. "The place I played the other night for a Breast Cancer benefit is called the Avalon," Ripley says. "It's right on Hollywood and Vine. It was a great space. It kind of reminded me of the Kit Kat Theatre, a little bit smaller. That would be a good space for us. I think that our band needs a thrust stage with a theatrical bent to it, but it also needs to be gritty."
About her upcoming concert with friend Skinner, which is simply titled Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley Sing Broadway!, Ripley says, "We're going to be singing our hits from the two records we made together, and then we're each going to do songs that are lesser known. I'm going to sing a couple songs from shows I've been working on this past year that might possibly move [to New York]." Those musicals include Kristina from the Mamma Mia! team of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Feeling Electric. And, yes, she and Skinner will also offer a selection of tunes from Side Show, the 1997 musical about conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton that brought both Ripley and Skinner a new legion of fans.
"The very first moment we sang together," Ripley says of Skinner, "there was something that passed through us that I don't know quite how to describe. It was just a feeling of 'Oh yeah, this is something I'm supposed to do and give everything to' — the idea of singing with her and making the sound together. I have sung with a lot of different people in my life, and I had never felt that before. . . . There's something about our voices when they blend that make it sound so much bigger than when we're by ourselves. It's more than the just the volume, [it's also] the complementary tones, [but] it's a mystery to me."
When asked whether she would move back to New York should a Broadway offer come her way, the multitalented performer pauses and says, "I think I've become more choosey about projects that I want to be involved in, and I consider that a good sign. I worked on four projects last year that could possibly go forward, and I think they're all good, so I would say yes to any of those. I think it's good to be conservative with your creative energy, to be a little bit stingy because there are only so many hours in the day, so you have to make a decision about who you're going to give your energy to."
Ripley adds, "I think that I give my creative energy every day to that which gets me the most excited — a script or if I'm writing something or if I'm painting something or if I'm working on a new song for an audition or working up toward a workshop of some musical that I'm doing. Whatever it happens to be, I try to do a little bit of that every day, and then the next project just kind of makes itself obvious."
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