After seeing and hearing 12-year-old Adriana Ripley perform a couple weeks ago in Radio Redux’ production of “Miracle on 34th Street,” I couldn’t help wondering: Who is this amazing kid? I had never seen her before. Never heard of her. And her performance was dazzling.
So I called her up. Well, strictly speaking, I emailed her mom, Monique Ripley, and arranged to drop by their Eugene apartment for a visit one afternoon over Christmas break.
There I found an ordinary 12-year-old girl, complete with braces and a quick, shy smile.
But she has an unusual background. Adriana was born in Guatemala, where her mother – a financial advisor of Brazilian-American descent – was working at the time as director of a social service non-profit. Delivered eight weeks premature, Adriana was brought to the US for better medical care, and has grown up in Eugene since she was small.
She began singing in the kids’ choir at First Congregational Church here before moving into theater. She was so afflicted by stage fright at first that she actually ran out of the building once before a performance of “Les Mis,” in which she was singing Cosette.
“I was sobbing and hyperventilating,” she explains. “And I had hiccups.”
After some quick discussion with her director, who offered some version of a pink pony as a bribe, she returned to sing – and got a standing ovation. “That’s when I decided that I like theater,” she says.
Adriana is an A student in the seventh grade at Roosevelt Middle School, where she’s in French immersion. She speaks English, Spanish and French. She’s good at math, and might like to be a doctor someday.
Meanwhile, she spends practically all her free time studying dance – she’s a student at Eugene Ballet Academy and dances with with a number of local troupes – and working on voice performance.
“I love dance,” she says. “Ballet in particular. There’s a certain amount of discipline that goes with it. You have to try and persevere. And out of that comes something beautiful.”
If she had to pick a performing art to concentrate on, it would be theater.
“I get to be all these different characters!” she says. “I can see things from different points of view.”
Adriana’s been in a handful of “Nutcracker” productions with Eugene Ballet, and recently performed the role of Dragon Diva in the Rose Children’s Theatre production of “Shrek” – her seventh show with RCT.
In the December Radio Redux performance of “Miracle,” she played the role of young Susan Walker, daughter of the hard-boiled department store executive who discovers the real Kris Kringle. She loved working with the other actors, she said, who helped her manage some of the odd demands of the show — like how to hold your script while speaking into a microphone on a stand.
Adriana stands only 4-foot-10, but her amazing poise, alone on stage with adult professional actors, was matched by a commanding voice in her solo rendition of “O Holy Night,” which was added to the show.
Her singing was incredible – relaxed, confident and understated on a song where so many young singers would try to overshoot.
Fred Crafts, executive director of Radio Redux and director of the show, describes her this way.
“I have known about her for years via a close friend raving about her every time we got together,” Crafts said in an email. “I have to admit that I was skeptical; nobody could be that good! But as she grew older I realized she was indeed something special. I talented scouted her … heard this mature voice come out of this very young person … said to myself ‘wow’…”
He shoehorned “O Holy Night” into the show to showcase that voice, Crafts said.
“It worked. When our audiences jumped to their feet and gave her thunderous applause, I saw it as a confirmation that we were witnessing a very special talent. I don’t think it is going too far to say that it was one of those a-star-is-born moments.”