ALICE RIPLEY AND JENNIFER DAMIANO ARE HAVING A BLOODY REUNION.
The duo, who last shared the stage in 2009’s Next To Normal, are both making their eagerly anticipated returns to Broadway in American Psycho. As mother and daughter in Normal, Ripley and Damiano each garnered Tony recognition (with a win for Ripley) for their heartbreaking portrayals of a family grieving over the death of a child. This time around, Damiano plays the secretary and potential love interest of a serial killer named Patrick Bateman, while Ripley plays the woman who raised him.
An original musical based on the controversial novel and film, Psycho has a book from Carrie writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and music and lyrics by Spring Awakening composer Duncan Sheik. The result is a cerebral, nostalgic, and hyper-stylized visual spectacle unlike anything else currently on Broadway.
I caught up with Ripley and Damiano about their latest collaboration, what they’ve learned from one another, their thoughts on mashing up horror and musical theater, ‘80s fashion, and more.
NAGORSKI: You both haven’t been on Broadway for several years. Why was American Psycho the perfect choice for your grand returns?
DAMIANO: I couldn’t think of a more perfect show to return to Broadway with. It is bold and innovative and different. It’s exactly the kind of art I wanted to be making. And the role of Jean felt like the perfect segue into adulthood for me.
RIPLEY: The track I play in American Psycho is like an appetizer for the audience and me alike. It leaves us wanting more. I’m ready!
NAGORSKI: What were your relationships to American Psycho before signing on to do the show? Were you fans of the book and/or movie? If so, how did that impact how you tackled your characters?
DAMIANO: I had seen the movie and loved it. I hadn’t read the book yet but I did end up doing so in preparation. I had always enjoyed Jean’s function in all forms of the story as the “good” one or the “beacon of light” in Patrick’s dark world. And I was excited to see how the stage version would make her even more dimensional.
RIPLEY: I was and still am a fan of the movie, and I find the book fascinating. I was intrigued as to how the role of Mrs. Bateman would affect Patrick’s emotional storyline.
NAGORSKI: Both of your characters have much bigger roles in the musical than they do in the previous incarnations of this story. What do you think this added depth contributes to the larger show as a whole?
RIPLEY: I do think it’s a boost to see a few slices of Mrs. Bateman, the woman who gave birth to this product of capitalism.
DAMIANO: I think that theater, and especially musical theater, in general dramatizes certain parts of a character that a movie or book doesn’t always necessarily do. Jean and Patrick’s relationship kind of becomes the main romantic through line of the piece, which is very intriguing in the way it is not like any other love story you normally see on stage. In theater, I think it is vital that the audience have a romantic arc to follow between two characters, two people to root for, or maybe just one of them to root for. Either way, it’s an important part of capturing people’s attention and care.
NAGORSKI: How would you describe the role of the women in the show?
RIPLEY: While still remaining detached from the material, the book’s author, Mr. Bret Easton Ellis, makes it clear in this fantasy that America uses and oppresses women, and that the treatment of women is so deeply ingrained that it’s not remarkable – it’s a part of our culture. However, the women are not really victims here. They jump in and play the roles willingly, under the spell of money, fast times, denial and other would-be demons.
DAMIANO: I really enjoy the many different dynamics of the women in this show. Characters and actresses. Helene Yorke who plays Evelyn and Morgan Weed who plays Courtney are so talented and powerful on stage. They make it very easy for my character’s function to make as much sense as possible as well. As Mrs. Bateman, Alice also has her very own specific needs of Patrick, as all the women do, which is essentially what makes all of our differences so interesting and important in the storytelling.
NAGORSKI: Now that you’re no longer playing mother and daughter, how is your relationship with one another different this time around?
DAMIANO: I am definitely older than I was the last time I was working with Alice, so it is very fun to see her as more of a friend than anything else. I’ve always felt so much younger than her but now we’re a bit more equal and it is a great new dynamic of our friendship.
RIPLEY: My character, Diana Goodman, was so demanding of my focus and energy that I didn’t really socialize at all during Next To Normal. So, I’m utterly grateful to spend this time in American Psycho getting to know Jennifer.
NAGORSKI: What was the most appealing part of getting to work together again?
RIPLEY: Hearing her beautiful voice 6 days a week!
DAMIANO: Alice is like my family. When she is around I feel comfortable and safe. Being in the room with her feels natural to me and so I was most excited about having that sense of comfort and comradery from at least one person in the room going into this project.
NAGORSKI: As actresses, what would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learned about your craft from observing and working with each other across different projects over the years?
DAMIANO: Alice has taught me to be fearless. Since day one. I still can’t believe just how many different choices she can make with the same one line. She is always searching for a more interesting way to tell the story and that has definitely impacted the way I approach a script.
RIPLEY: Jennifer is so quick to laugh, and it’s genuine. I’m learning to laugh more!
NAGORSKI: American Psycho has such a unique 80s-tinged score. Vocally, do you find it to be more or less challenging and/or rewarding to sing in this pop style rather than a more conventional musical theater one?
RIPLEY: This score is a challenge. I think perhaps I did more “homework” on this show than any other, because that straight pop tone is something I have to practice. It requires twice as much support as vibrato.
DAMIANO: I don’t find a score like this challenging in a technical way, rather more in an emotional way. You have to be very careful that you don’t get so stylized with these kinds of vocals that you are distracting from what you’re saying. Which is the true challenge for any pop score, for me at least.
NAGORSKI: Jenn, this is your second time collaborating with Duncan Sheik. What do you both think it is about his work that has made him such a contemporary staple on the musical theater scene?
DAMIANO: Duncan was one of the first – if not the first – innovator in contemporary musical theatre. Spring Awakening was a complete game changer and I’m so lucky to have been a part of it. Duncan will always be working against the grain, against all the normal assumptions of a Broadway score, which is what makes his work timelessly interesting and new.
RIPLEY: Spring Awakening was an epiphany for me. I was blown away by its rock and roll attitude, and the melodies are exquisite, especially for that musical world. I think Duncan’s sound speaks for several generations who otherwise would feel unrepresented on the Great White Way.
NAGORSKI: Other fun aspects of the show are all of the colorful ‘80s costumes. What are your favorite outfits you wear on stage?
RIPLEY: It’s tough to choose one, but I love the Valentino suit I wear at the wedding as Mrs. Bateman.
DAMIANO: I do get to wear an awesome Madonna inspired wig in the Tunnel scene. It has this epic neon bow in it and every time I put it on I really do feel like I go back in time.
NAGORSKI: American Psycho is a revolutionary production in many ways, including the way it embraces the macabre and scary elements of its source material. Why do you think it’s taken so long for a horror musical of this scope to come to Broadway?
RIPLEY: I’m not sure. But rock and roll is not a genre of music – it’s a way of life and it’s here to stay.
DAMIANO: I think that a lot of people go to the theater to escape, hence why the entertainment industry thrived so much during a time like the Great Depression. The main concern with a show like this is that people don’t always want to be scared or want to think – sometimes they just want warmth and heart. Our show is more of an art installation than anything else I think. It may be strange and scary at times but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important or that it doesn’t say something. I really enjoy how receptive the audiences are to the interpretative nature of it. And how even if you don’t like it, you will still be thinking about it and you can still appreciate what we’re doing. It is risky and I think that’s why creators have strayed from it for so long, but hopefully we can get the ball rolling.
NAGORSKI: Did either of you get a chance to catch the premiere production of the show in London?
RIPLEY: No! I was an American Psycho virgin the first day of rehearsal.
DAMIANO: I did not and I was even in London when it was happening! I really wish I got a chance to see it.
NAGORSKI: With a show as bold and unique as American Psycho, is there a specific takeaway that you hope the audience leaves with every night?
DAMIANO: I hope that people are thinking. I hope they are thinking about themselves, about society, about themselves in relation to society, I hope they feel inspired by the music and the set and are excited about the boundaries we were able to push.
RIPLEY: I hope they come back.
NAGORSKI: Jenn, between shows like Spring Awakening, Next To Normal, Spiderman, and now American Psycho, it seems that you have a penchant for working on new, contemporary musicals rather than the classics. As an actress, what draws you to these shows as opposed to revivals? And Alice, what do you find to be the biggest differences between working on pre-existing versus original material?
DAMIANO: I think first, my voice responds more immediately to scores like this. But besides that, I really do enjoy being a part of new and unexpected work, and being a part of the world that continues to push the boundaries of what a musical can be.
RIPLEY: The difference is, in a new show you feel like you own more of the role as an actor, and everybody from then on will be looking to your interpretation as definitive. I like that!
NAGORSKI: Growing up, were you fans of horror films? If so, which ones were your favorites?
RIPLEY: I was! My favorites are The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, and Jacob’s Ladder.
DAMIANO: I was not! But if I had to choose … I would say The Shining, which I do actually enjoy.
NAGORSKI: What’s the scariest prank that someone in the cast and/or crew pulled on you during rehearsals (or even a performance)?
DAMIANO: There are not as many pranksters in this bunch as you might think, but maybe I should start coming up with some good prank ideas!
RIPLEY: We don’t goof off too much during the show. But, Benjamin Walker had gas in rehearsals. That was kind of scary. He ate a lot of protein powder.
NAGORSKI: Thank you so much, ladies! Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that we didn’t discuss?
RIPLEY: My cohort Emily Skinner and I have a new album called Unattached: Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below, on Broadway Records. It’s coming out on June 17. The CD is a recording of the show we wrote and performed there in February. I think it’s fantastic, and it’s all thanks to our devoted audience.
DAMIANO: I think you covered it all! Thank you so much for the thoughtful questions. That was fun!
Originally published on PopBytes