DIVA TALK: A Chat With Two-Time Tony Nominee Alison Fraser, Star of Tennessee Williams Songbook and Love Therapy (Plus Video)

By Andrew Gans
22 Mar 2013

Fraser and Charles Busch in The Divine Sister.

Question: What type of venue do you see the show in in New York? Broadway theatre, Off-Broadway…
Fraser: No, I think it should be an Off-Broadway house. My dream house would be Theatre 80 at 80 St. Mark's. I love that theatre. To me, it's the most wonderful, ambient theatre space in New York, and come on, there is an Absinthe bar there. [Laughs.] I mean, how perfect is that? It's a wonderful theatre that you walk in and it's like 1925, and it's just like going back in time. I had seen a magnificent piece there called Cloud 8, which was just this astonishing anarchic piece by Scotty Decker, and the really happy coincidence here is that Scotty is doing a movie version of that this summer, and he took my agent's tickets to the Tennessee Williams benefit — because my agent had gotten ill, he had this bad stomach virus that was going around — so Scotty got his tickets, and then afterwards he emailed me and said, "You know what, I'm writing you a part in the movie," so I'll be doing a part in the movie version of Scotty Decker's Cloud 8, and I think we do that in L.A. this summer, so that's very exciting, too!

Question: Tell me a little bit about the character that you're going to play in Love Therapy.
Fraser: This is wonderful because, as you can see from "It Could Be Worse" — and as you saw in Divine Sister and School for Lies and all of those wonderful plays that I've had the good fortune to be in the past few years — I get cast as the villain a lot, although I'm not the villain in the Tennessee Williams show. I'm just the Blanche archetype… But in "It Could Be Worse" I play a severe character… Wendy has really, in an act of fabulousness, written me not as the villain, but as incredibly warm and pragmatic, and I'm really almost a mother figure in this, and I'm very helpful to the leading character who's going through a lot of emotional turmoil because she has developed a sexual attraction — she's a therapist who's developed a sexual attraction for one of her clients… I am a waitress at a diner/bar, and I talk to her. She's my friend even though she's quite a bit younger than I am, and we talk things out, and I have a very different view of therapy than she has. I have that opinion that you just need a good friend to talk to. And, it's a lovely part, and like Wendy, this character is of an Irish background. I'm half Irish, so she speaks with a little bit of an Irish accent even though she's been here for about 25 years, and she's just one of those ladies [who] works very hard, and she probably plays hard, too, and she is kind and smart, and I am very grateful that Wendy has seen that side of me. I'm very grateful for that.

Rusty Magee

Question: You mentioned before revisiting "New York Romance." What was that like for you, going back to that show and that title song?
Fraser: Well, of course, I sing that song a lot. It's a great song that my late husband Rusty Magee wrote, and it's the song that made me fall in love with him and say, "Geez, I've got to marry him and get him out of the dating scene. Whatever dating scene he's in, he's been miserable!" [Laughs.] And, that's the mythology of our New York romance, and I've been singing it for years, and, of course, when I did the big concert at Tisch Center years and years ago, which my first album was based on, it was successful and the CD is still in print and Phil Bond over at 54 Below asked me to do a show there. It was at a time I was very busy, and when I put together my cabaret shows, I obsess about them, but it was exactly the same time as I was doing the Tennessee Williams show, and I couldn't come up with a new concept, and I thought, "What if I revisited 'New York Romance'?" For those people who don't know the concept of the album, it's the story of a New York romance from first lightning bolt of attraction to the lesson learned after the romance doesn't work out. And, it's all done through a combination of American Songbook and some contemporary songs—Randy Newman is in there—and then about five of Rusty's really gut-wrenching songs about romance, culminating with the great cabaret anthem "New York Romance," and I was wondering how it would play with just piano because, of course, we couldn't afford the fantastic band that we had… I think we had nine pieces on the album, and in the big concert at the Tisch Center, and I thought, "You know what, I think the story holds." It's a theatrical piece. It's like a little play. I could actually see somebody else doing it. Like, I'd love to see Alan Cumming do "New York Romance" — the same series of songs…because everybody has their own New York romance story, and I would love to hear somebody else's take on this same group of songs because it worked like a charm when we did it at 54 Below, and they immediately asked us back.