Alice Ripley opens up about her experience in American Psycho, her hopes for the musical’s legacy, and working on Unattached with Emily Skinner

american psycho

Benjamin Walker, Jennifer Damiano, and Alice Ripley in American Psycho

Much like the lives of Patrick Bateman’s victims, American Psycho’s time on Broadway has been cut short.

The show, which officially opened on April 21, has been slated to close tonight, June 5. At the time of its closing, it will have played 81 performances. In those 81 performances, however, American Psycho introduced theatergoers to a totally new theatrical experience. Everything, from the unabashed gore to the sex and the EDM-esque score by Duncan Sheik, is like nothing ever seen before on Broadway.

Perhaps, like the original controversial novel and the film adaptation that came before it, this musical was ahead of its time. That theory is one Tony Award winning actress Alice Ripley, who plays several characters in the musical, posed during her candid conversation with Stage Door Dish about the musical.

Ripley is featured as three different roles in the production. She first appears as Svetlana, the Russian owner of a dry cleaner who takes care of all of Patrick Bateman’s dirty laundry – literally – without asking questions about the copious bloodstains. Ripley also appears at the very end of the show as a real estate agent who causes Patrick to question everything he thought he knew about his life.

Ripley’s largest role in the show is as Patrick’s mother, Mrs. Bateman. She is a “heavily medicated” woman who rarely takes off her sunglasses (even indoors), and blindly dotes on her son. Together with her former Next to Normal costar Jennifer Damiano, Ripley sings the soulful ballad “Beautiful Child” about Patrick.

American Psycho‘s untimely departure from the Schoenfeld Theatre has its silver linings. Ripley added additional performances to her return to Feinstein’s/54 Below with her Side Show co-star and close friend Emily Skinner. The concert, which was originally slated as just two performances, will be hosted from July 12 to July 25. Ripley is also scheduled to appear at The Winery at St. George in Mohegan Lake, New York, on August 24. The concert, which has been promoted as “Featuring the Songs of Sondheim” will be an evening of Ripley singing her favorite Sondheim classics and sharing some personal stories about the legendary composer.

Just two days before closing American Psycho, Ripley engaged in a candid discussion with Stage Door Dish about the musical’s short life on Broadway and what she will take away from her experience with the horrifying and hilarious production.

We ran into each other at Glass House a few weeks ago and you mentioned that American Psycho reminds you of Tommy. Can you talk about that?

It does remind me of the experience of doing Tommy, which was my first Broadway show. One of the reasons is, like Tommy, it’s one of those shows where you play a track. That also happens in Les Mis. Most shows, you just play one role and that’s it. In a show like Tommy or American Psycho, you play a bunch of different characters. We have a wig for each character, so you can count up your changes and wigs. I think I have 11 changes in American Psycho.

What’s been the experience for you of being back in an ensemble situation?

That’s part of it, too, that you’re a part of the ensemble. Often, when you end up playing a principal role, you don’t do what the ensemble does. They go on without you, but when you play a track of roles, you often join the ensemble. I just love it. I feel so at home there.

In American Psycho, I love being in the pile of bloody dead bodies. It feels a little like modern dance, and I’ve never done that in a Broadway show. It’s really fun to do.

Of your three characters, which one do you think you’ll miss the most?

I guess it’ll have to be Mrs. Bateman. She’s so different from me in so many ways, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know her. We’ll have to write Mrs. Bateman: The Sequel. 

As Mrs. Bateman, you were able to sing with Jenn Damiano again, in a situation that was clearly less grueling for you than Next to Normal. I love that you always say ‘protect yourself’ to the people who are going to be taking on the role of Diana. What was it like to work with her in a situation that wasn’t as intense?

With Jennifer, I learned after the fact that everybody with affiliated with Next to Normal, especially the cast, all went through it, not just me. It does demand a lot of you as an actor. I knew I was experiencing that as Diana, but I didn’t necessarily realize that everybody else in the cast was experiencing it in their own way. Playing Diana took so much energy that I didn’t have a social life when I was playing that role, so I didn’t really have a chance to get to know Jennifer until now, and that’s been great. I love that part of it.

You two are so iconic together, and now in this show, it’s a different situation, but you have a lovely song together. It’s one of the best musical moments in American Psycho.

I love that moment in the park. I remember in rehearsal when Duncan added the bridge to that song, ‘Beautiful Child.’ He put in the word ‘maybe’ twice. I don’t think it was accident. Maybe it was, but it was a nice accident. I thought that was kind of poetic for the die-hard fans. Benjamin Walker, who I think gives an incredible performance, has his back to the audience at that moment, but if you could see his face at the end of ‘Beautiful Child’… That moment always moves me so much, and it’s funny because no one sees what’s going on with him there but me.

Benjamin was one of the big Tony snubs of the season. Everyone is still talking about it. What’s it like to work with such a young yet rising talent like him?

I remember seeing Benjamin in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. The thing I took away from that show was his performance and that he was center of everything. He was a driving engine behind all of it. When I knew he was going to lead our show, as we started rehearsals, I could see he was the perfect choice. I was shocked. I’m shocked to recognize now that enough people would be okay with our show closing. That’s bizarre to me. It’s so worth seeing.

I could not agree more. When I went to see it, it was a full house. It’s also what I would consider the most talked about show of the season. People really want to discuss it. It genuinely surprises me that you are closing.

I’ve enjoyed this experience from the beginning. Even before it started, I enjoyed my audition. I think my favorite part of it so far is how the audience is behind us right now. It feels so good because, honestly, we all do it for whoever’s in the audience. It’s all been great. I think there are a lot of pressures for a Broadway house these days and a lot of them involve money. Sometimes there’s nothing they can do, and you just have to cut your losses and pull out. It was also a very competitive season. In a different season, this show would have ruled. In all fairness, it would have been nice to have my own song. I have definitely earned that. I don’t feel slighted at all because I don’t have it but it would have only made it better.

I agree. One of the critiques I hear most frequently from people is, ‘Alice Ripley is so underutilized in this production.’ 

We’re here to be candid, so I’ll be that way with you. Let’s be honest, this is a job in my hometown. I’ve been on the road for a number of years. Not only is it a Broadway show, but of course I want to be involved in something new with people that I know and respect. Why wouldn’t you say yes? If there was a promise that they would develop the role, that makes it even better. In this case, there was actually a promise, and it wasn’t really developed. To be in their court for a minute, this is the London production. That sets the tone for everything afterward and that’s what you fall back on. It’s not really 100% brand new but to me it is.

Again, I love being part of the ensemble. I love not having to sing 38 songs and carry the show. It’s a nice break, and I know how to be in the ensemble. It’s just, to be candid, it would have benefited everybody if they had given me my own song. It doesn’t take rocket scientists to figure that out. I’m not saying the show would have run any longer or anything would have been different, but the fans would have enjoyed it. I’ve seen some of the other shows in town. You can see when a song was written for a singer. It can still be there to tell the story. First of all, with any musical, it’s absolutely imperative. There’s no time to linger and show off. If you want to show off, you have to tell the story at the same time. When you can hit that at the right moments in the course of the arc of the show, then you’ve got it, if you do it earnestly and in a way that doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence. I would never want them to do anything like that. Don’t you agree?

I definitely do.

I never would have mentioned it if you hadn’t brought it up. I’ve been perfectly happy, and I mean that, but when you look at it from a business perspective on how to get people into the theatre, I do have a track record and a Tony award. They should have exploited that. I haven’t said this to anybody yet. This is pretty personal, but since we’re closing, I might as well be honest.

This is what people are talking about and how it’s lovely that you and Jenn are working together.

It’s nothing but great things about this job. I loved this job and I’m really sad it’s closing. It was the perfect job in so many ways. It leaves the audiences wanting more. There’s no Diana anywhere in what I do on stage even though I do a bunch of characters, and that’s a nice break for everybody. She’s kind of intense.

I truly believe this musical is going to have a cult following like Side Show, where years later, people still talk about it. What’s it like to have something like Side Show, where you’re still connected with it, and do you think this show will follow the same type of legacy?

The biggest difference is that for Side Show, we recorded a Broadway cast album with Sony Classics. Over the years- it’s been two decades- I keep saying the reason people know about Side Show is because of Sony Classics. They made a record for us. We had a shorter run than American Psycho has had, but somehow they struck a deal. That’s probably a big reason why the revival had support, and that’s why a ten year old will walk up to me with the Side Show cast recording, hand it to me, and say, ‘This is my favorite show. I’ve never seen it, but will you sign my CD?’ It’s because of the record.

Here’s the difference: with American Psycho, we’re not going to have- well, we haven’t yet, and we’re closing, so the odds are a wonder if it would ever happen- a Broadway cast recording. The cast recording is from London because, like I said, it’s no secret that this was the London production. It’s perfectly ethical for them to not make a cast album and release the London cast album right around our opening. I have no problem with that, but this cast going to slip through the cracks if there’s not some kind of concept album or cast album, and that’s unfortunate. But what are you going to do?

What do you hope American Psycho‘s legacy will be?

I really think the legacy is the support from the audience. I’ve been there for every show, and every show has had a really full audience. We haven’t been below 75% attendance, not once. That’s unlike Side Show and The Dead, which were both Broadway shows I did, when they started to close. The attendance always goes up toward the last few shows, but two weeks, ten days before the last show, we see the audience dwindle until there’s just a small group of 150 people in the middle of the orchestra and there’s no one in any other seat. That’s not happening here. It feels strange to be closing to a full house of satisfied audience members. It feels very strange to me, but I haven’t done everything, so there’s a first time for everything. I think the legacy would go down to the audience’s support. In this cast, the only person who’s ever been out was Jason Hite, who was out for three shows because he had food poisoning, but nobody else has missed a show.

Attendance is high, and that’s what confuses me most about this whole situation.

The legacy is going to belong to the people who actually saw this cast because we’re not going to be on a cast album. The Lincoln Center archives did capture the show, so you can always go there and see it. If you give them a good reason, they’ll let you watch it. I’ve never seen any of the shows I’ve done on Broadway at Lincoln Center. Sometimes they tape at other locations as well, but it’s usually Broadway stages. They’ve taped every show I’ve done. I’ve never gone to the library and watched any of them, but I’m going to go watch this one. In rehearsal, you see one thing, but the team keeps telling you, ‘Yeah, but you haven’t even seen the best part of the show yet. That’s all the rest of the elements.’ I haven’t seen that, so I have to go watch it. I hope they let me.

I’m sure they will. What will you miss most about this experience?

Definitely the cast and the crew, everybody that makes it happen. It’s a great group of people. The cast are all triple-threats. I’ll miss having a job, for sure.

I want to talk about your album Unattached with Emily Skinner that’s coming out in a few weeks. 

That’s an upswing of being released from one job. I have another one to look forward to. Now that American Psycho is going to be closed, Emily and I had two shows scheduled for the 13th and 20th of July, both Wednesdays because that was my day off in the schedule. When I got the notice that American Psycho was closing, we filled in those dates with six other shows. Now we have eight shows at Feinstein’s/54 Below. It starts on July 12. The shows are at 7 pm and 9:30 pm. The show is called Unattached. We did it there in February and recorded it live in front of the audience, and that recording is going to come out in a couple of weeks on June 17. I’m very excited about Unattached. It’s so much fun to do.

What’s the experience of being friends and working with Emily for such a long time. 

That’s part of what makes Unattached so much fun, not just for us but for the audience too. It’s been two decades since Side Show, and I think the audience loves that we still got it. They love that if there was any kind of tensions or weirdness, either real or implied, about anything, it’s all gone. It’s just funny. So much time has passed. I think when the audience sees Emily and me together, it’s always kind of magical for them. It’s just something you have to witness. I can’t explain it, but I’m definitely at my best when I’m with her.

Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley performing at Feinstein’s/54 Below.

What have you learned from her over the years?

What I’ve learned we’ve figured out together. I’ve learned a lot from working things out with her. We both have really strong opinions and we’re outspoken, so you have to work those things out. When we come on stage, it’s always like magic. The thing I’ve learned from her the most is how to collaborate successfully and how to make the most of what you have as a team. It’s really great theatre with her because that’s kind of what theatre is. Sometimes you feel like being on stage, sometimes you feel like being in the audience. Wherever your place is, you’re going to make it better for everybody if you just go and fill in that place as much as you can. She taught me how to have more respect for the audience, and she taught me even more how to be real when I am on stage.

I want to ask about your movie that’s coming out. What can you tell me about Sugar!?

I’m so excited about Sugar!, too. It’s a movie I shot two summers ago. It’s directed by Shari Berman and written by Leora Kalish. We had a very heavily female crew, meaning lots of ladies everywhere. It’s a movie about an all-female rock band that accidentally goes viral, and all the ladies are over 50, but you still want to be there. It’s cool. My costar is Robert Clohessy from Blue Bloods.

I haven’t seen it yet. I have no idea what it looks like or sounds like. It’s a rock musical movie and it features music by Joan Jett and Graham Russell. Graham Russell was with the band Air Supply, so there are some really good writers. Also Steve O’Reilly wrote some songs for it. It has its world premiere at the Long Island International Film Expo. It’s a long name. I just call it LIFE. I can’t go because I have an Emily gig that night. I’m bummed, I was going to go see the movie. I think it will be satisfying. I hope it’s a good movie.

I highly doubt you would do something less than great.

I know it has grit and soul, for sure, because I was there when we did that. We’ll see what shows up on the screen.

After a 20+ year successful theatre career, what have you discovered that you carry with you show to show?

The most important thing when you’re a person who wants to make a living doing any kind of creative life that’s off the normal structure of how people make a living, there’s no set way or blueprint on how to do this. You’re limited by a few things- it helps to see it as limiting because then you how to liberate yourself from it. It’s limiting to realize that there are so many hours of the day, which can get in your way when you’re creating something that’s more like an emotional eco-sphere than anything you can touch, which is a musical performance. You create this world with that, and it’s almost like a spirit world, but we live in the physical world. We all have to buy a ticket and get ourselves tho the theatre and park in a place where we’re not going to get a ticket, eat something, wear comfortable shoes. It’s all in the physical world, but it all enhances your experience on stage. You have to keep that in mind. That’s a law that we all agree to, and it’s not going to change any time soon. It’s like the law that your landlord wants the rent on the first of the month. That’s never going to go away, it’s a part of life.

The more free you are creatively, the more space you need by yourself, which means you need support. You have to find a way to support yourself. It works to ask your friends for help. People are ready to help. There are a lot of people who support the arts, but sometimes you do have to give somebody a reality check and say, ‘This is not a hobby over here. This is my life’s calling. Would you like to help with that?’ I’ve learned that over the course of all these years of doing these shows, and I look forward to doing shows that I was never right for, but as I get older, I’m right for other things, which is kind of exciting.

I guess the answer to your question is the big picture. Look at the arc of your creative life as a character arc, where you can see it. as a rainbow shape. Where are you right on that arc? Wherever it is, it’s perfect. The first thing you do to hurt yourself is when you wish you were on a different part of the arc, because all you’re doing is wasting precious time. Plus, you’re scattering your confidence to spend any time other than thinking about what your next project is going to be and how to make it happen. We want to be able to make this our living. It’s not just a pie-in-the-sky crazy idea to think that. Now is the time when that’s actually true. Just turn on Netflix and see how many actors that you’ve never heard of before have their own private trailer while they make this movie. There’s so many that you’ve never heard of. I think this is a good thing, because that means when I talk to students and they ask me questions about being an actor, I can honestly say, ‘You guys, you should go for it. There’s so many job opportunities out there. You’re not guaranteed a job just because you go to law school and pass the bar.’

Look at it that way. People need it, obviously. They’re willing to pay a premium for good stories told by convincing actors, and if there’s a beautiful actor somewhere, that person has ten people around him or her that’s helping. There’s always a crew that has to be there to support you. The first thing we need is respect for ourselves and for what we’re producing and for the audience. I always assume the audience is the smartest person I’ve ever met because I can’t stand it when I’m in the audience and what’s happening on stage doesn’t really respect my intelligence.

You can always tell when an actor is dumbing it down.

There’s nothing wrong with something that’s very straightforward and simple and time-tested or even corny. You still have to keep the audience in mind. Don’t try to pull one over on them. That’s for another kind of theatre. That’s not for Broadway. I think with American Psycho, it puts it out there. During tech, I noticed that Benjamin was doing the second half of the second act in his blood-stained underwear, and he was smeared with blood, standing in Barney’s, and Luis was not saying, ‘Patrick, what are you doing in your blood-stained underwear? Where’d all that blood come from?’ He was just having a regular scene with Patrick. Well, it’s anything but regular, but you know what I mean.

At that point, if the audience hasn’t already gleaned it, they can see very clearly from then on for the rest of the show. There’s a scene with Jean when he’s in the same look, and she doesn’t say, ‘Patrick, what happened? Why are you in your underwear?’ It’s great. When I noticed they were doing that, I said, ‘Please let them keep this.’ I didn’t want somebody to be afraid and say, ‘We can’t do that. That might blank to the audience.’ Never be afraid to offend the audience. I don’t find it offensive at all when it tells a story. In this case, it shines a spotlight on the idea, ‘It’s okay to not know what to think right now. Here’s an idea. It’s just a concept. How far into that mirror facing a mirror facing a mirror can you see? Is it interesting to you? Why?’ That’s what the show is about. It’s like performance art. It’s like punk music. It’s doesn’t need a reason to be, but it has one.

The very last number in the show, ‘This Is Not an Exit,’ clearly says it in the lyrics. I was like, ‘Do you really want to say that?’ But yeah, they do. Bret Easton Ellis, Duncan Sheik, and Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa], our writers, want to say, ‘This is not an allegory. It’s not a fable. We’re not trying to teach you anything. Take from it what you will or don’t take anything, we don’t care.’ That’s pretty much punk music right there. I’m not talking about the score, I’m talking about the attitude. It has a lot of enemies because of that attitude. ‘If you don’t like it, get out. We don’t care if you don’t like it.’ Of course we care, it’s just a concept. Isn’t that interesting that it makes you feel something strong? That’s performance art that you’re seeing.

I think it’s really cool, and maybe it’s too easy to say this, but maybe it’s just ahead of its time. It’s happened before. Chicago was the same way when it first opened. It had a short run and was not understood by the critics or the audience, and now look at how long the revival has been on Broadway. 20 years or something. I think it’s a good thing, it’s just puzzling when you see the audiences of successful shows. I was in almost every show of Sunset Boulevard with just a handful of shows I was out. When we closed, it was just time for the show to close because it had been running in London and LA. That’s when they made that cast album. I’m not on that cast album even though I was in the original Broadway cast. I was the only replacement when it came to Broadway and they made it in LA. We had been running for a while, so when it closed, it was not a packed house but the audience was a respectable size when we closed.

That’s the sign of a successful show that they just decided to close for some reason. It’s not because people didn’t want to come or didn’t know about it or were waiting to see if it would be around in the fall. Maybe it’ll be a quick revival, or maybe we’ll make a movie, or maybe they’ll have a live broadcast on television. That would be radical.

The violence is disturbing. When we were in the rehearsal room, I didn’t like what I was seeing. The violence used to be more extreme and they cut it back a little bit. In the big picture, you start to see that this is why the book was controversial. People were starting to think that Bret Easton Ellis was Patrick Bateman. That’s not it. His book is like performance art. There’s 20 pages of Patrick ranting about Phil Collins. None of it is anything except a direct, honest review of music. It has no double meaning. The book is just a portrait of Patrick, but when the book came out, there was a legion of people who didn’t like it because they thought this must be was Bret Easton Ellis was really like. Some of the other chapters weren’t as pleasant as the Phil Collins chapter. Some people thought it was incoherent, disjointed, and ingratiatingly violent, and other people thought it was a genius piece of performance art in novel form.

Now you have the musical version, which, in my opinion, is the best version of the story. I don’t mean, necessarily, the story written on paper, although I think the book is great. I love what Roberto did with the book and I think the lyrics are awesome, too. Awesome is a word that’s so generic, but it fits. It’s the kind of music that would be easy to take for granted, but anyone who knows a little bit about musical theatre understands that what makes it great is when it serves the story and gets out of its own way. It doesn’t try to be big for the sake of being big. I like the movie and the book a lot, but the musical is my favorite version of the story. Beyond just what Roberto wrote, it’s the idea behind it and Patrick Bateman’s emotional life and his connections to people, or the lack thereof, and how he uses the material world to fill up that abyss in him that has no emotional connection to anything. As long as he controls his beneficially hedonistic environment- yes, it’s hedonistic, but it’s only good for him, it’s not hurting him. He goes a little overboard with the drugs, I guess, but that’s just a mark of the 80s for his group of people at that time.

All of that never really occurred to me when I read the book or saw the movie. I really understand it  now in a way that I didn’t before, and I think it’s because of Duncan’s score and the musical form that allows all these things to come together: performance art, dance music, emotional center, camp hilarity. With what Heléne [Yorke] does with Evelyn, it borders on cartoon-y in a good way. The show starts to feel like a graphic novel in a musical theatre form. I didn’t know it was a comedy until the audience got there. Patrick says his first line, ‘Whenever I tan,’ and they all laugh. Then he says, ‘I wear a custom made silicone eye mask that keeps my eyes from getting puffy,’ and they all laugh. It’s like Rocky Horror Show. The key to doing it successfully is to play the characters slightly cartoonish in as real a way as you can. You maybe try to steal the show. That’s when the show really works, like what Heléne is doing, and Theo Stockman is doing and of course Benjamin and Jennifer, although when you’re the cartoon version of an ingenue, you just have to be as ingenue-y as possible, and that’s what she’s doing. She doesn’t have all the great lines that Heléne has, but she’s just as good in her role.

Thank you for being so open and honest with me.

You’re welcome. It seems like this is the right time to talk about that. I have been honest with it all along, I just only tell certain people because I know they’ll put the right swing on it. The biggest impact from American Psycho for me is that it’s been incredibly positive. It’s been one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had. I’ve enjoyed letting the spotlight shine on my cast mates, and I’ve been so grateful for the job. I’ll be really sad to see it go, but I guess that means I’m ready for what’s next. That’s the paramount feeling here. It all comes from a place of gratitude. There’s no negativity at all. That just means that I’m free now to come back to Broadway and play Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

That would be so much fun, wouldn’t it? Norm Lewis can play Max. Aaron Tveit could play Joe Gillis, or if you wanted to go much younger, Tyce Green. He could be Joe Gillis because he looks so much younger than me. Jennifer could play Betty Schaefer. How great would that be? Let’s do that somewhere. You can be the stage manager. I’ll make a curtain out of my grandmother’s bedspread. My friend Chris has a barn in Connecticut, and we can put on that production for anyone who wants to see it for free. That’s what we’ll do this summer.

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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