For local theatergoers, the best reason to see Next to Normal may be Alice Ripley. The musical's June 7-19 run at the Palace Theatre is a rare opportunity to see a performer re-create his or her Tony-winning leading role in a touring production. The fact that Ripley graduated from Lakewood High School and Kent State University only makes the ticket that much hotter.
But Ripley insists that Next to Normal, which racked up three 2009 Tony Awards and a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is indeed the main draw. She points out that it's not the feel-good musical most people are accustomed to seeing.
"It's the feel-everything musical," she declares. "It's a rollercoaster of emotions."
Ripley plays Diana Goodman, a supermom suffering from bipolar disorder — a complicated character she created by drawing on her own somewhat troubled upbringing.
"She's got 10 plates spinning," Ripley says. "She looks fantastic. Everything smells good, looks good."
That delicate balancing act is ended by what Ripley cagily describes as "a loss the entire family experiences that has not been expressed." The loss triggers Diana's mental breakdown, an event that deeply affects her husband and two teenage
"Because Diana's life is breaking apart, they're all rocked by it, too," Ripley says.
As in all families, the drama is interrupted by sitcom-like humor, complete with witty, sarcasm. The musical also has a score that Ripley likens to a rock opera.
"It's the tone and the range of the music that makes it sound operatic," she explains. "But the rock element is always there." The result is a production that depicts what she jokingly calls "the all-American family."
"Lots of people can relate," she says, becoming more serious. "It's the full range of emotions and larger-than-life behavior that the audience sees in themselves."