Alice Ripley is a different kind of Broadway star. Her most notable roles are as a woman struggling with bipolar disorder in the wake of her son’s death and as a conjoined twin in a circus sideshow who longs for an individual identity in Next to Normal and Side Show respectively.
It’s not surprising that she sang most of her cabaret show Saturday night barefoot. The venue, The Green Room 42, is a newly opened spacious and subtly decorated cabaret space tucked into the fourth floor of Yotel in Hell’s Kitchen. “I love you in a place where there’s no space or time,” she serenaded us from Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” wearing a black-and-white dress that communicated lived in elegance. Soon after, she kicked off her heels and launched into Stephen Sondheim’s classic socialite rant “The Ladies Who Lunch” but with a considerably lighter touch than it usually receives.
With a menu created by the chef from neighboring restaurant the Green Fig, it’s easy to indulge during a show here. Almost everything on the modern Israeli menu looked appealing, but I was particularly drawn to the fried cauliflower. Served as a giant orb topped with tahini, almonds and date honey, it’s meant to be shared but easy to eat alone.
“Good evening, my name is Emily Skinner,” she announced after the first two songs with deadpan delivery before explaining how people still often confuse her with her Side Show co-star who she spent 91 performances literally attached to in the late 90s. Ripley has a wry sense of humor about it, recalling later in the show a residual check from Warner Bros she recently received with Skinner’s name on it.
Growing up the middle child of eleven and constantly being called by her siblings names, she has plenty of practice with mistaken identity. She starred in the ill-fated reboot of the musical Carrie as the title character’s mother but related more to the alienated teenage anti-hero whose name her classmates often forget. “Every day they mocked me and pushed me around” she belted with gusto midway through the 75-minute set.
The first song she sung from Next to Normal, “I’ve Been,” was originally sung by her character’s husband and acts as a reflection of the pain that her illness has caused him. It’s particularly moving to hear her sing it and more than anything it’s Ripley’s boundless empathy that provides a structure for the show. In a particularly revealing moment, she recalls singing “My Funny Valentine” to her grandfather on his deathbed. In another she morbidly declares, “maybe if I play my cards right and don’t jump off a bridge, I could play Norma Desmond.” It’s around this time that I notice she has a small tattoo on her left ankle, fitting for a woman who brings a punk rock ethos if not sound to musical theater.
“I have to do this song or I get arrested,” she says nonchalantly before passionately launching into the final gut-wrenching song of the evening from Next to Normal. “I Miss the Mountains” is a vivid love letter to the larger-than-life highs of manic depression that make even the wildest dreams feel within reach.