Alison Fraser was one of musical theater's breakout stars of the 1980s, following up parts in William Finn's off-Broadway hits In Trousers and March of the Falsettos with a Tony-nominated starring role on Broadway in Romance/Romance, and following that with a Tony nomination for her performance in The Secret Garden.
Fifteen years would pass, however, between The Secret Garden and Fraser's next Broadway musical, the 2008 revival of Gypsy, directed by Arthur Laurents and starring Patti LuPone. Rather than becoming a Broadway fixture, Fraser for the past two decades has been performing mostly off-Broadway and regionally, in both musicals and straight plays. They include Dedication, or The Stuff of Dreams at Primary Stages in New York; Tom Stoppard's Rough Crossing, costarring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, at Florida's Coconut Grove Playhouse; Lady in the Dark, with Andrea Marcovicci, in Philadelphia; and the 2009 world premiere of Arthur Laurents' Come Back, Come Back, Wherever You Are at New Jersey's George Street Playhouse, where Fraser has appeared frequently.
Currently, Fraser is acting in A Charity Case, a new play by Australian writer Wendy Beckett that's in previews off-Broadway at the Clurman on West 42nd St. (it opens Wednesday). Fraser moved over just one block from her last stage, the Westside Theatre on 43rd St., where she was in the cast of Love, Loss, and What I Wore during the summer. Next up, she'll be in the Theatre for a New Audience production of The Broken Heart, a 17th-century verse play by John Ford ('Tis Pity She's a Whore), in February. British director Selina Cartmell, who's worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Abbey Theatre and is making her American debut with Broken Heart, offered Fraser a part after seeing her last spring in The School for Lies, another period piece, at Classic Stage Company.
In addition to theater, Fraser lends her talents to videogames (doing both motion capture and voice work) and audiobooks. She read The Night Strangers, a novel by Chris Bohjalian that's just out on CD, and recently completed her first lead role in a movie, an indie named Commentary. Fraser is also the proud mother of Nat, a 21-year-old senior at Chapman University in southern California. She raised her son on her own after the death of her husband, composer/performer Rusty Magee, in 2003.
BWW caught up with Fraser over breakfast in a midtown diner while A Charity Case was in rehearsals. We talked about single motherhood on and off stage, the link between her current and past roles, and some of her famous theater friends, among other subjects.
A Charity Case is described as the story of an "adoption triangle." What side of the triangle are you?
I play Faith, the adoptive mother of a girl named Deidre—whom I call Dee, Deedee or Deidre, depending on how mad I am at her. I am the adoptive mother of this troubled 17-year-old girl, and I am also a single mom. This girl is searching for her identity and she definitely feels that something is missing in her life because she has not had this relationship with her birth mother, who was a troubled teen and is now a troubled adult.
Do you have any close connection to adoption in your real life?
Not really adoption, but there's a movie that just came out called Oranges and Sunshine. It's about this hidden horror in the British Empire, that a lot of children were sent out of the country into servitude. They were called "home children" and sent to Canada, South Africa, a lot to Australia. I found out recently, because my niece has been doing a lot of genealogical research, that my father's mother was a home child up in Canada. My grandmother was a very taciturn woman, with a very grim visage, and we always wondered what went on. She never talked about her upbringing. It's not the same as adoption, but it's people being wrenched from their natural environment, and I'm sure the natural environment she came out of was heinous. So it was displacement, and I think this show is about trying to mend that displacement.