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 Wesley Taylor at a recent screening of "It Could Be Worse."
Photo by Monica Simoes

Question: How did the Tennessee Williams show come about? I'm curious about the genesis of the project.
Fraser: It came about in an interesting way—really through Julie Halston because I got a call from Julie… I think it was a couple of months after Divine Sister had closed, and she said David Kaplan, the head of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival, needed a pinch hitter for an actress that bowed out at the last minute to do a reading of a Tennessee Williams short story. I said sure. I just finished Love, Loss and What I Wore. It was going to be two short stories — shocking short stories that Tennessee Williams wrote — and Michael Urie was to do one, and I was to do the other, and David Kaplan talked to me. I went up, and it turned out that this story was more than saucy — it was quite filthy! [Laughs.] I'm like, "Oh my God, what made you think Jo Anne Worley would be the right person to do this in the first place?" I'm convinced that she took one look at the script and said, "Oh my God, I can't do this!" [Laughs.] But maybe not; I have no idea. But I enjoyed it tremendously, and I have also done a lot of audiobooks, including some erotic audiobooks. I'm like, "Hey, I'm your dream girl for this job because not only have I just come off a gig doing Readers Theatre, but I also do erotic audiobooks narration, or I have in the past." I haven't in a long time, but anything to get your insurance! And, it was fun. It was a huge success. People really, really responded well to it. It was very funny and racy. [Laughs.] And then I got a call from David in November, and I had given him a copy of "New York Romance" as a calling card. I'm very proud of that album still, and I had a great time revisiting it at 54 Below back in the fall for a couple of performances. I'm proud of it, so I gave him a copy of it and said, "If you ever need somebody to sing a song, give me a ring," and in November he asked me to dinner, and he presented me with this idea, which was the songs that Tennessee Williams requested to be put in his plays.

Fraser at the March 17 Project Shaw gala.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Almost every Tennessee Williams play has music attached to it — like Glass Menagerie has "I Am the Pirate King," Streetcar Named Desire has "It's Only a Paper Moon." Some of the other songs are "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," and even "Bye Bye Blues," "Sophisticated Lady"… It was a wildly eclectic group of music that he had chosen. What I like to think is that this is the soundtrack of Tennessee Williams' early years. I like to picture him as a child listening to say "St. Louis Blues" on the Victrola… And then later on, as a younger adult, listening to "If I Didn't Care," "It's Only a Paper Moon"—these are songs from the '30s — "San Antonio Rose"… I really can picture this wonderful, sensitive, intelligent, brilliant, young man sitting by that Victrola and having this music pumped into his head, and then later on he becomes a fantastic playwright that we all know him as. He put this beloved music of his youth into his plays forever. And, what David did — he brought all of this music together under the aegis of a Blanche archetype. If anybody on Facebook is wondering why I'm a platinum blonde these days, it is for this show. I have very, very, almost Jean Harlow-esque hair. And, it just works beautifully. It follows the trajectory — the emotional trajectory — of Blanche DuBois' journey in Streetcar, but it's done through this music, and the fantastic thing is that we brought Allison Leyton-Brown on board, and she's just a wonderful, wonderful pianist and arranger, and we have an incredible band. We have a seven-piece band that will absolutely knock your socks off when you hear the CD. We have the best players in New Orleans. I cannot believe how lucky I am. [Laughs.] I'm almost scared to go into that studio because I saw some of the guys play last night, and I was just absolutely blown away. And, our producer down here just worked with Harry Connick, Jr. And, I just figured if we're going to New Orleans, this is where we're going to make this music to last. So that's how it started, and we started doing it in Tennessee Williams festivals, and I'm really hoping that we get a run in New York because I think that people would enjoy it. We did one night at the Five Angels Theatre — a big benefit for the Tennessee Williams Festival, and it was a big, big, big success. We're keeping it going. We want this show to be seen by lots and lots of people… I believe there are plans to go to St. Petersburg in Russia. That would be fantastic, and we just want it to keep going, so I guess I'm going to be platinum for a while. [Laughs.]