Once discussions of Next to Normal's unusual subject matter - a family's struggle with bipolar disorder - wind down, the next topic is generally Alice Ripley's voice. Ripley originated the role of mentally ill wife and mother Diana Goodman, won a 2009 Tony Award for her performance, and reprises the part in the show's national tour. And while Brian Yorkey's book and lyrics are lauded for their honesty and intensity, there's an equal amount of space in print and on blogs devoted to discussion of Ripley's vocal strengths and increasing weaknesses.
Although I missed her on Broadway, in the years she's been at this throat-ripper of a role, video and audio recordings show a clear progression from raspy undertone to raspier overtone, and her odd vowel inflections - cutting them off quickly, in favor of a waiting consonant ("Wish I were herrre"), can be alienating. However, even if she's less of a powerhouse now, she can still carry this powerhouse musical, whose rock-fueled score by Tom Kitt forgives vocal quirks if there's enough belting (though, yes, some of the show's sung-through dialogue gets muddled in the lower registers).