Tony, Pulitzer Prize winning show comes to Bay Area

January 27, 2011 8:12:57 PM PST
A bipolar housewife, dealing with the death of her son, the estrangement of her daughter and her own deteriorating mental health, hardly sounds like material for a musical, but it is. "Next To Normal" has already won two Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize and it's now playing in San Francisco.

Alice Ripley is the show's star and plays "Diana" -- a bipolar woman addicted to drugs, given electric shock, who talks to her dead son. It is emotional, gut wrenching, and physically exhausting. She's lived the role for five years, but it wasn't easy at first.

"I had a harder time separating myself from her and also what you are talking about, the drain on my physical energy, and the demands of the role," says Ripley.

Ripley was born in San Leandro, but left when she was young. "Next To Normal" has been the ultimate reward. She won the best actress tony in 2009.

"It's in my bathroom cabinet, my medicine cabinet... the Tony," says Ripley.

Yes, it's right next to toothpaste. The musical started in small workshops, then off Broadway, then finally to Broadway. She was part of it as the raw material was shaped.

"It was like kind of twisted and woven into this beautiful, fine thread and now it's this tapestry," says Ripley.

Its score won a tony, besting Elton John, and "Next To Normal" became just the eighth musical to win the Pulitzer Prize.

"It feels like you can't hype it and you can't deny it. It's the Pulitzer. It gives you confidence," says Ripley.

What may be most fascinating is the audience's reaction to it with the family struggles and the bipolar condition. They have come up to her for advice thinking she is the character, but Alice is not Diana.

"That's something that you have to be really clear about, who you are, when it comes to that," says Ripley.

She'll be with the national tour until July and then maybe something else. It will be time to give emotions a break from this thought provoking show.

"Most people who think they're happy, just haven't thought about it enough," says Ripley.