Spotlight On



by Nancy Rosati     

Alison Fraser is best known to Broadway audiences for her Tony nominated roles of Josephine/Monica in Romance/Romance and Martha in The Secret Garden. Off Broadway audiences recognize her as the original Trina in March of the Falsettos and its prequel In Trousers, and as Uta in The Green Heart, written by Charles Busch and Alisonís husband Rusty Magee. She played the title role in the world premiere of Lizzie Borden at American Stage Company and can be heard on the original cast recording. Other recordings include several cast albums and her two solo CDs - Alison Fraser - A New York Romance and Alison Fraser - Men in My Life.

Alison and I met during the limited run of Prodigal, an original musical from Australia that had its American debut at the York Theatre. She played Celia Flannery, the mother of two sons, in this modern adaptation of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Nancy Rosati:  Where did you grow up?

Alison Fraser:  Natick, Massachusetts, ďHome of Champions,Ē most famous for being the home of Doug Flutie. Itís about 17 miles west of Boston.

NR:  William Finn came from there too, didnít he?

Alison in The Mystery of Edwing Drood
AF:  Yes. Billy is a little bit older than I am. He was out of high school by the time I got there but he saw me in some shows because he had been involved with the theater program in our school. It was a very sophisticated program due to a guy named Jerry Dyer, whoís just a spectacular director. There are a lot of us who would say he was very influential in our lives.

My uncle was very theatrically oriented, and my mom has one of the best collections of 19th century theater books and memorabilia youíll ever see. We grew up on theater. My mom had a crush, not on Elvis Presley, but on Edwin Booth. (laughs) She had a room filled with pictures of Edwin Booth. The first time I got to take her to The Playersí Club was really a great event for her.

NR:  Did she sing also?

AF:  No. My mom doesnít sing, at least not publicly.

NR:  When did you start singing?

AF:  Pretty early on. I remember singing along, as loud as I possibly could, to Maurice Chevalier records in French. To this day I have a pretty damn good French accent. I got cast in a French revival of Cabaret that was done about 10 or 15 years ago. I had to audition in French. I donít really speak French very well but my accent is excellent, thanks to Maurice Chevalier.

NR:  When did you decide you wanted to do this for a career?

AF:  In high school I was heavily involved with the National Forensic League, a debate club. I was the president of the Speech Club for two years and I was very involved with getting speeches together for other people and making sure speeches fit their talents. I got involved in putting Student Council shows together. My passion in high school was definitely in the theater and thatís where my Anthony Newley obsession started. You can hear about that on my New York Romance album. I talk about loving Anthony Newley and eventually running into him at an audition and (laughs) having a nervous breakdown. At the end of his life I got to be friends with my idol, and theater brought me to that, so that was a lovely thing.

I just segued naturally into theater from high school because I had been so involved with the Speech Team and the National Forensic League. I went to Carnegie Mellon for theater and then I got cast in a show that Arthur Kopit was doing with Raul Julia and I moved to New York.

NR:  When you first started working in New York, did you stand there and say, ďI canít believe all of these opportunities are coming to me?Ē

AF:  At that time I think I was a pretty cocky kid. Instead of saying that, I was probably saying, ďI canít believe Iím not doing more.Ē Now Iím saying ďI canít believe it.Ē I think that happens to kids when they come straight to New York from high school. In high school, I had a lot of power. I could say, ďLetís do Cyrano de Bergerac and Iíll play Roxanne.Ē It was a rude awakening coming to New York.

NR:  What have you learned since then?

AF:  Iíve learned a million things. I should write a book and the book would be called ďWhat Not to DoĒ because Iíve made every mistake possible. Iím surprised I have survived it as well as I have. Iíve made huge mistakes.

NR:  Anything you want to talk about?

AF:  Well, donít fight with producers. Donít have really, really bright ideas in front of a lot of people. Take them into a private room and talk about your good ideas. It should be stuff thatís very, very evident, but when youíre caught up in the passion of the moment, itís difficult to censor yourself. I think now Iím a LOT better at being tactful and not being a jerk.

NR:  Not everybody learns that lesson.

AF:  Iíve definitely learned it. The past few years have been about rebuilding bridges that unfortunately I might have burned, or at least singed, in my youth. I think as you get older you get a little more peaceful with your life and you get a little less cocky.

NR:  I see that you like to do new projects. How do you choose them?

Lizzie Borden
AF:  Projects seem to choose me. When I choose a project I invariably donít get it. If I chose projects, Iíd never, ever work. The great wonderful projects that I have done have come to me. Lizzie Borden came to me in the mail. Thatís my pet project and I want to do that show in New York desperately. The first Broadway show that Chris McGovern ever saw was Romance/Romance and when he was putting up a reading of Lizzie Borden he thought of me and asked the casting director to get in touch with me. I think at the time I was very busy. I believe we were in the last throes of previews of The Green Heart at Manhattan Theatre Club and I was exhausted. Chris sent me this marvelous script in the mail and I read through it. My reaction was, ďIf anybody else sings this stuff first, Iíll just die.Ē I had to do it. I attached myself to the project.

Iím really interested in originating parts where I believe that I can make the part as good as it possibly can be. I want to know that I can help to mold this character so that other people can do them, and do them well. I like to protect my characters and make sure they are so good that every great singer/actress in my vocal range is going to want to do it.

NR:  Is Lizzie Borden on hold now?

Chris and Alison
Christopher McGovern and Alison
AF:  Iím not sure. Somebody should bring it in because it just kicks ass. Itís a perfect show and a great part that I want to do. Chris McGovern is my musical soul mate. He plays for me in my one-woman concerts. He and I have a musical shorthand together. He knows my voice backwards and forwards. He produced Men in My Life and will be producing my new album. I love him.

NR:  Tell me more about The Green Heart.

AF:  I still think to this day that The Green Heart is a wonderful show that did not get a good shot. It was a show that was before its time and someday somebody really smart is going to revive it and make a lot of money.

NR:  I have a quote from you in which you said, ďNew composers are the bravest people in the world. They put their life on the line. I watched four years of work be destroyed by one manís word and I still havenít gotten over it.Ē

AF:  Itís so true. I still havenít. We all worked so hard on that show and at every reading people would say, ďThis is going to be huge.Ē At the time it was a very original idea, taking a very funny movie (A New Leaf) and making a very funny, dark musical about it. Obviously in the past few years weíve seen huge hits made out of movies but I really feel like we got on that bandwagon very early. I put the creative team of Charles Busch and Rusty Magee together.

Rustyís my husband and I think heís a terrific composer. He won the Outer Criticís Circle Award for Scapin. He does a lot of the classic adaptations for Andrei Belgrader at American Repertory Theatre and Yale Repertory Theatre. I think Ubu Rock, which was done two years in a row at American Repertory Theatre, is having a reading with John Turturro on April 22nd to drum up interest in a New York production. Itís one of the bravest, funniest musicals Iíve ever seen in my life and somebody should take a chance on that one.

The Green Heart was a real labor of love and we thought we had something very, very special. Manhattan Theatre Club was totally behind it. I believe they spent almost a million dollars on that production. Something just didnít click. In previews things were either standing still or not improving or, in some cases, getting worse. We had a couple of casting disappointments. I think it was a better show than Mr. Brantley gave it credit for, but itís his job to review, so who am I to second guess him? I do believe that the show deserves another shot. I think itís very funny and has a terrific score.