4 Accusers Speak Out About How Broadway Star Alice Ripley ‘Traumatized’ Her Young Fans
The Tony Award-winning actress is accused of having sexual conversations with a girl as young as 13 and puppeteering a cult-ish, obsessive fan base of vulnerable youngsters.
When Next to Normal made its Broadway debut in 2009 it was trailblazing, acclaimed for tackling the complex subject of a suburban family dealing with a mother’s downward spiral caused by her bipolar disorder. Being the first mainstream production to address mental illness in such a profound way helped draw several young fans to the musical, feeling it served as a representation of themselves or their own family dynamic.
Next to Normal went on to earn 11 Tony Award nominations and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It also helped cement actress Alice Ripley’s place as a Broadway star when she took home the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.
The success of the musical and Ripley’s star power was a magnet to some, particularly teenage female fans, who latched onto Ripley and her character Diana Goodman. But instead of a healthy relationship between star and fan, multiple sources have told The Daily Beast what occurred messed with both their emotions and mental state, and in the end left them feeling traumatized.
Four people called Ripley’s behavior an abuse of power, alleging she sought out vulnerable young fans, who were often queer. They claim Ripley would shower them with compliments and even tell them who they should and shouldn’t “associate” with, including other fans. They allege they were constantly competing for the attention of Ripley, who in turn would make them feel special and even integral to her life. Some felt she was a mother-type figure to them. Others claim they were in love with her. When they could no longer provide Ripley with the level of attention she supposedly wanted, she allegedly would discard them, leaving them shattered.
“I felt like I was in a cult, the cult of Alice Ripley,” Liz, a New York City actress whom The Daily Beast is only identifying by her middle name, says. “She finds people who are desperate for love, and she figures out how to fill that hole and then manipulates them with it.”
“I’ve spent the last 10 years thinking I’m the only one who’s been in therapy because of Alice Ripley,” Meredith, whom The Daily Beast is also only identifying by her middle name, adds. “Then in the last 48 hours, I realize there are also other individuals who are my demographic who have also felt literally traumatized by this relationship.”
In a statement on Monday, Ripley denied the allegations, saying, “Recently, a claim has been made online against me. There’s absolutely no validity to any of it. I appreciate everyone’s continued support.” A few hours beforehand, some of her Facebook pages were deleted, and her Instagram went private. 54 Below confirmed to The Daily Beast that Ripley’s upcoming show at the venue next week had been cancelled at her request on Monday.
On Tuesday, she posted a photo to Instagram, which was seen by The Daily Beast, with the caption, “A piece of trash’s attempt to mar my world = a sad, shameful and discarded butt #failed.” She then edited the caption to read, “A beautiful world awaits.”
Ripley had no further comment when contacted by The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
The outpouring of stories against Ripley came after TikToker Brie Lynn, 25, posted a now-viral video accusing 57-year-old Ripley of “grooming” her. Brie Lynn told The Daily Beast that she had spent years healing from her relationship with Ripley and was moved to post the video after hearing Billie Eilish’s new song “Happier Than Ever” and feeling she could relate to it.
A Broadway fan from a young age, Brie Lynn says she was brought into Ripley’s world after watching her Tony Awards performance in summer of 2009, quickly becoming a fan of the musical. She added Ripley on Facebook when she was 12 and sent her a message about how she was a fan. But she wouldn’t meet Ripley in person until that October, a few months after her 13th birthday, when she attended a Next to Normal performance in New York City.
Seeing that performance, where she gave Ripley a bouquet of flowers at curtain call, altered the course of the next few years of her life. Brie Lynn says she began attending more and more shows, sometimes going to lunch with Ripley and other fans, and even attended performances of Next to Normal while it was on tour in various cities. Brie Lynn also shared photos of herself as a teen with Ripley, sometimes in her dressing room and once at a group lunch.
She says she would routinely message Ripley over social media, eventually moving over to text. “I was going through a lot at the time, I had recently come out as gay, I grew up in a conservative town, I was bullied a lot, I was dealing with depression and other things,” Brie Lynn says. “So, a lot of the times, it was me confiding in her about stuff that was going on in my personal life. Other than that, there were some conversations that kind of crossed the line of what was appropriate.”
After Brie Lynn shared her story on TikTok, she claims she went to take screenshots of some of the messages she sent with Ripley. But when she checked the same messages on Wednesday, Ripley’s replies seem to have been unsent.
Brie Lynn claims that Ripley encouraged her to watch the movie Serendipity, later inviting her and a group to lunch at the restaurant where the movie was filmed. It was there that Ripley allegedly told 14-year-old Brie Lynn that the “first time we locked eyes, she felt like the world stopped.”
Eventually, Brie Lynn says she felt that she was in love with Ripley “because it felt like it was encouraged to feel that way toward her.” Ripley would also allegedly engage in sexual conversations with Brie Lynn, who admits that she would initiate those talks.
“There were instances where I would bring up a sexual situation that might have involved a specific sexual act, and she was not shutting down those conversations, she was participating in them,” Brie Lynn alleges. “She was responding to this back and forth. I’m 25, I can’t imagine getting a message like that from a kid and doing anything other than immediately leaving the conversation.”
“I was a child who had recently come out as gay and I idolized this woman,” Brie Lynn further explained in a follow-up to her initial TikTok video. “However, with her being the adult in that situation, I realized that she should have shut those conversations down immediately. She should have stopped talking to me immediately, and she did not. She pursued a friendship with me despite the fact that we had these conversations.”
When Liz came across Brie Lynn’s video about Ripley, she said it felt like a slap in the face.
“I was in shock,” she says. “All I could do was just sit there. I think I watched it 20 times in a row before I decided to comment on it. It was like reality came back and slapped me in the face from all the things that I’ve suppressed. My body knew. As soon as I watched the video my body knew. I started sweating, my heart started racing. I was having a trauma response.”
Liz met Ripley back in the spring of 2009, when she was 18. Studying to be an actress, she was already a huge fan of Ripley’s and was thrilled when she was able to meet her at the stage door after a showing of Next to Normal on Broadway.
Over the course of her summer break, Liz says her life quickly became consumed by Ripley, attending every performance that she could get tickets for. But she wasn’t alone, often accompanied by a gaggle of young girls, who were also waking up early to stand in the rush line for cheap tickets to the show. “On the outside, we looked kind of like glorified groupies,” she says, adding that she remembered Brie Lynn being around during this period. “But it was teenage girls, and then a few older adults.”
Ripley’s young admirers weren’t just limited to New York City and those who would visit her shows—she also had a network of young fans on social media, often adding them on Facebook and later Instagram. Leo, who goes by they/she pronouns, said they developed a relationship with Ripley on social media back in late 2017, describing their communications as “very intimate.”
At the time, Leo was 16 and was introduced to the musical through a partner who Leo claimed was having “similar experiences” with Ripley. “They told me about Next to Normal and I listened to it... I just kind of fell in love with the musical,” Leo said. “From there, I fell in love with Alice, because I was able to have a palpable representation of my mom, and I felt like that was a representation of what a mom should be.”
Leo went on to make a fan account for Ripley, who ended up following Leo on both Twitter and Instagram, the latter where Ripley would often comment on Leo’s posts and message them privately. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, thanks so much for being this mother figure in my life,’” Leo explained. “And she would reply, ‘You have no idea how special you are to me.’”
Leo said she confided in Ripley about her family not being supportive of her sexuality, with Ripley comforting her and supporting her. But as Leo began to develop a relationship with another partner, whom they would post about, they noticed Ripley began to distance herself, her replies becoming curt. Eventually, she ceased messaging Leo, which was devastating.
“It definitely has messed with me,” Leo explained. “I used to cry about how she quit talking to me and how I thought I was special to her. I have BPD [borderline personality disorder] so I get attached to people really easily and become dependent on them for happiness. When that happened, it was devastating. I just felt awful about it.”
In hindsight, Leo says they feel Ripley’s interactions with them was “definitely a lot of ego-stroking for her.”
During Liz’s summer whirlwind with Ripley, she also felt that her full attention needed to be on her, describing how she was at the theater nearly every week and was at Ripley’s beck and call, sometimes picking up food for her when her personal assistant couldn’t. Once, standing behind the barricade near the stage door after a show, Liz was holding Ripley’s items and became giddy when another fan mistook her for Ripley’s daughter.
“What Alice does, whether she is consciously doing it or subconsciously doing it, is she knows how to sense where you are vulnerable and where you are desperate for love and attention, and she just goes for it,” Liz says. “For me, I was very much looking for an older sister, even like a mother-type figure. So that’s kind of what she was for me.”
Ripley would then reward her fans’ devotion with special access to her, including inviting them backstage into her dressing room after a show. Once during a performance, Liz says Ripley locked eyes with her when she was sitting in the front row and sang the rest of the number to her. “After the show, she came up to me and she said, ‘I am so grateful that you were there. I felt so lost and when I saw you, you got me through,’” Liz recalls. “She would say those things and it made me adore her. I felt so special.”
These moments of doling out favoritism created a competition-like atmosphere among Ripley’s fans, both Brie Lynn and Liz explain, sparking jealousy when she chose certain people to come backstage over others.
Riley’s relationship with her fans could make them feel meaningless at the drop of a hat, with Liz scared to leave the city to return to college for the fall semester, fearing that if she wasn’t physically present for Ripley, she would be discarded and replaced by another eager fan.
“In the back of my mind, I was like, if I go, I’m going to lose Alice, which is such a strange thought,” Liz said. “But that’s also kind of how she made me feel. Like if I wasn’t there, then I didn’t matter, which is why I showed up all the time. Because I felt like if I didn’t remind her of my existence, then she would forget about me, even though she would say all these crazy, meaningful things to me.”
Sure enough, Liz said when she returned to school, Ripley slowly stopped communicating with her, adding that the tumultuousness of their relationship played a critical role in exacerbating her own mental health struggles. It also didn’t help that Liz was studying to be an actress and suddenly, she had a Tony Award-winning Broadway star taking a special interest in her.
While Liz is clear that Ripley never promised her anything in terms of helping her career, she allegedly strung her along, making vague references to what could be in store for her in the future. “I thought she was gonna make all my dreams come true,” Liz says.
So, it made sense why Liz was still desperate to rekindle the special bond that she thought she had with Ripley, following the Next to Normal tour when it popped up in various cities and even Ripley’s concert series. “I would try to go to as many of those as I could, but at that point I could sense that there were other people who had replaced me,” Liz says, explaining this marked the end of her relationship with Ripley. “It made me not want to show up anymore because it hurt my feelings, like it hurt.”
Time-stamped Facebook photos reviewed by The Daily Beast, show Liz pictured with Ripley multiple times, as well as in St. Louis, following the Next to Normal tour, as well as frequent social media interactions on Ripley’s since-deleted Facebook page. The Daily Beast also reviewed a bizarre video of Ripley that she posted online, where she referred to Liz by her first name while striking a flirtatious tone in lingerie (The Daily Beast has edited out the opening seconds of the video where Liz is referred to by her first name so as to respect her request for anonymity).
Liz always felt her relationship with Ripley was strange, even when they were close. “It never truly felt real,” she says. “I saw her so much that summer, I probably spent more time attempting to see her than spend time with my own family. She became a weird beacon for me. I wanted to be just like her in a weird way.”
“I think she exploited me emotionally,” Liz adds. “I definitely felt very emotionally manipulated during that time. Who knows if she was actively trying to do these things or not, I cannot speak to Alice’s psyche. But she was the fully-fledged adult in the situation. These relationships with teenage girls were not appropriate, adults were rarely present.”
“It’s a power dynamic, because she’s using the power she knows as this fabulous Broadway star who a lot of young girls look up to and she uses that to her advantage. And that’s not okay. Whatever the motive is, that’s not okay.”
While both Brie Lynn and Liz say they felt their relationship with Ripley sort of fizzled out after they distanced themselves from her or were replaced, Meredith describes the end of their relationship as much more abrupt and equally as wounding.
Meredith also met Ripley at the peak of Next to Normal’s fame on Broadway in the summer of 2009, but she never really saw herself in the same light as some of Ripley’s other fans, having been dragged along by a friend to meet Ripley when she was 16 at the Next to Normal stage door following a performance.
“Alice came up to us,” she says. “She recognized my friend. She really struck me when I met her. She was really interested to meet me, even though I said I have not seen this show, and I don’t know who you are. She was kind of giving me really intense eye contact. I just noticed her, and I became very fascinated with the idea of who she was.”
Unfamiliar with the musical but inexplicably drawn to Ripley, Meredith says a few days later she attended a Next to Normal show and was not prepared for what she saw. “It was a very accurate mirror of the kind of home I was growing up in,” she says. “I was totally unprepared for that parallel and had no idea that’s the material I was stepping into. Something there really lodged in my brain. So, I was immediately interested in going to the stage door after the show and talking to her about my experience watching the show. She remembered me and said, ‘Friend me on Facebook.’”
Meredith began going to more and more shows, hanging out with Ripley and a group of fans in a back alley after shows. She also began messaging Ripley on Facebook about things that were going on in her family.
“Particularly things that were going on with my mother, who was bipolar and really reminiscent of the relationship in the show,” Meredith explains. “I think I projected a lot because of the material she was in. I will say that although she wasn’t always responsive to me, she also never shut me down, so I saw it as a productive place to express myself at the time. I guess I thought she had some insight into mental illness because of this character, because she was this older woman. I was always able to contact her, and she would read them, and she would write me back, even if it was just like two words.”
Meredith says when she returned to boarding school that August, Ripley would sporadically send her care packages, containing her old clothes or small tokens. She would also sometimes make journeys up to New York City from North Carolina to catch the show and visit with Ripley in the alleyway.
Shortly before her 18th birthday, Meredith moved to New York City to attend NYU. Ripley was allegedly so ecstatic at the news that she took Meredith coat-shopping at Burlington Coat Factory because Meredith had never lived somewhere as cold as New York. Around this time, Ripley was deciding if she wanted to star in Next to Normal when it went on tour, confiding in Meredith about her hesitation, leading Meredith to feel there was a special bond between the two.
“I knew that I was being treated differently than other people,” she says. “I was hurting because of other stuff in my life, and she presented herself as someone who was willing to support me. There was enough of a welcoming nature and enough of a love for me that was present that allowed me to get what I needed, like, ‘I feel like I have a mother figure now.’”
So, when Ripley told Meredith that she would be visiting Meredith’s hometown of Los Angeles over Thanksgiving 2010 with Next to Normal, Meredith arranged to see Ripley, visiting her backstage and even picking her up from a show one night, grabbing a meal together. Ripley mentioned that Next to Normal would be in San Diego in Jan. 2011 and Meredith should also take a trip out to see her.
And so, Meredith did—although she didn’t see the show at all, instead going to exclusively hang out with Ripley, driving out to Seaport Village for lunch. During the car ride, Meredith claims Ripley made a series of comments to her about feeling that she was an equal and stressed how easy she was to be around. “Instead of thinking that’s very fucked up since we’re 30 years apart, what I thought was how awesome that this woman thinks I’m mature and capable,” Meredith says. “I took it as a big compliment.”
In February, Next to Normal was in San Francisco, and once again Ripley invited Meredith to come out and visit her. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, I have school, I am a freshman in college, but, okay,’ because that’s the kind of spell that I was under,” Meredith says, claiming that Ripley specifically mentioned it would be Valentine’s Day during the trip. Meredith says Ripley picked her up from her hotel in a rented car and they went on a little day trip to the John Muir Woods and nearby beach. Time-stamped photos reviewed by The Daily Beast show Meredith and Ripley on their jaunt in San Diego, as well as photos from the San Francisco trip.
One night during that short trip, Meredith says she was alone with Ripley in her dressing room following a show. As Ripley was sitting at her vanity, Meredith was sitting on the floor and began reading an affectionate letter someone had written to Ripley. But at the end of the letter, Meredith claims Ripley “spun around in her chair and she bent down on the floor and kissed me on my mouth without any announcement that that was going to happen.”
Years later, Meredith still has trouble explaining exactly what happened. “It wasn’t like she started making out with me, but it was enough for me to go, this person who I’d really interpreted in a familial context might not be that person,” she says. “I had never kissed a woman before, there was nothing like this that had ever happened to me before.”
“She had established enough of a trust with me and allowed me to pursue time with her to such an extent that I found myself in her dressing room alone, and when she approached me with an obviously physical behavior, I didn’t even flinch. I was like, ‘Yep, yes.’ That’s what in hindsight seems weird to me. If anybody did that to me now or anybody else at 18, I would have been like, ‘Whoa, what are you doing?’ Instead, I was totally softened to it.”
Over the next few months, Ripley was continuing to tour with Next to Normal and Meredith was devoting much more of her time to college, as well as spending time with her friends, although she would still speak to Ripley and sometimes see her. In September 2011, Meredith claims Ripley even came to watch her scene work at NYU’s acting school.
During this period, Meredith was dealing with serious family issues, which in turn caused her mental health to severely decline. Viewing Ripley as a mother-figure, Meredith says she tried to lean on Ripley for support, reaching out to her for help, but Ripley only gave the bare minimum in return, sending short replies.
“That’s perhaps more manipulative than just silence,” Meredith says. “She was engaging with me when I ‘really needed’ her. It’s just she actually didn’t materially do anything. Then my mental health got so serious that I was ultimately hospitalized. As fate would have it, I was hospitalized on her birthday. Earlier that day, she had said even though it was her birthday, that she would come to my dorm and help me pack my things for the hospital. But as it happened, I didn’t make it through that day, I went to the hospital earlier than planned. When I was sitting in the intake room, I got a text, like, ‘I will not be coming to see you. I will see you on the other side.’ And she never did.”
Meredith says Ripley essentially ghosted her, never hearing from her after she was released from the hospital two weeks later, with her messages, emails, and phone calls all going unreturned. “I think it probably took me over a year to really realize that she wasn’t going to,” she adds. “It was a very abrupt and frankly traumatic fracture in the relationship.”
It took until seeing Brie Lynn’s TikTok and several other young people speaking out on Ripley’s since-shuttered Facebook pages who say they went through similar experiences with Ripley for Meredith to really come to terms with their relationship and that it was over for good, as she always held out the slightest hope that Ripley would apologize or acknowledge what happened.
For Meredith, she believes Ripley should have been aware of the subject material that she was working with and how her young fans were engaging with her. But Meredith believes there was a fine line that Ripley crossed, specifically when she doled out validation to some, encouraged fans to compete for her attention, and allowed them to feel the relationship was “reciprocal, beneficial, and fulfilling,” before casting them aside when she wasn’t getting what she needed, or if they became too overwhelming for her.
Liz, Leo, and Meredith were all moved to speak out in support of Brie Lynn and in hopes that Ripley is held accountable for her actions so as to prevent her from doing this to another fan.
“It’s not your standard abuse, for sure,” Meredith says. “But it’s definitely a pattern. There are multiple people who feel like they’ve had to spend years working through something in therapy because of the same person. That’s the pattern—not that we were all vulnerable, it’s not that we were all young, it’s not female, it’s not that we were all theater fans. The consistency is Alice.”