(Andrew Gans’s article appeared on Playbill, 7/14.)
This week Playbill catches up with two-time Tony nominee Alison Fraser, cast as Big Mama in Ruth Stage’s production of Tennessee Williams‘ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which begins previews July 15 prior to an official opening July 24 at The Theater at St. Clements. Directed by Joe Rosario, the production is the first mounting of the classic drama that the Williams estate has allowed to be produced Off-Broadway. The company also includes Sonoya Mizuno, Matt de Rogatis, Christian Jules Le Blanc, Spencer Scott, Tiffan Borelli, Jim Kempner, Milton Elliott, and Carly Gold.
Fraser was Tony-nominated for her performances in The Secret Garden and Romance/Romance, and her other Broadway credits include Tartuffe, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Gypsy. Off-Broadway the multitalented artist created the roles of Sharon in Squeamish (Off-Broadway Alliance, Outer Critics Circle Awards nominations), Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford in First Daughter Suite (Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk nominations), Arsinoé in The School for Lies, Sister Walburga in The Divine Sister, Trina in March of the Falsettos and In Trousers, and the Matron in the world premiere of Williams’ In Masks Outrageous and Austere. Among Fraser’s numerous screen credits are It Cuts Deep, Impossible Monsters, The Sound of Silence, Gotham, Family Games, Happy!, Blowtorch, High Maintenance, Understudies, Happyish, It Could Be Worse, Jack in a Box, Commentary, In the Blood, The L Word, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Between the Lions.
What is your typical day like now?
I have a pretty structured schedule right now because I am deep in the thick of the Mississippi Delta these days, playing Big Mama in Ruth Stage’s Off-Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at St. Clement’s. Before I turn into Big Mama though, I have my Brooklyn duties—getting up at seven to have breakfast with my partner Steve, give him the lunch I pack for him every day, read the New York Times, watch a little Morning Joe, give the cats their breakfast, tidy up, do some paperwork, perhaps do a self tape or voiceover audition in my home studio, and go over music I will be singing in the future. Then I go over all my Big Mama lines with my bedraggled script sitting on my beautiful antique brass music stand, and hopefully I don’t have ever to refer to it. Then I take the subway (masked) to St. Clement’s and deep dive into this classic Tennessee Williams drama, which is directed by the visionary Joe Rosario.
I don’t think there has ever been a sexier Maggie/Brick coupling than the absolutely stunning Sonoya Mizuno and the brooding heartthrob Matt de Rogatis. Brace yourselves, this particular delta is mighty steamy! There might be teddies and tattoos involved…Then, Steve picks me up, we take the subway (masked) back to Brooklyn, and we talk and unwind, go to sleep, then it all starts over again. I like the limbo of an intense tech period—it requires absolute commitment and concentration, and moves forward so fast every day to the first public performance. It is a rush.
Is this a role you have wanted to play? How are you approaching your portrayal of Big Mama?
I never envisioned myself as a Big Mama, but I am certainly a big Tennessee Williams fan. I was introduced to him early on, choosing—unwisely, in retrospect—Blanche Du Bois’ “He was a boy, just a boy, and I was a very young girl…” speech from A Streetcar Named Desire for my dramatic interpretation performance in Natick High School’s Competitive Speech Club state finals. Needless to say, I did not go home with trophies, but I was hooked, and later got to be involved with very interesting Tennessee Williams projects. I did Dirty Shorts, a pair of erotic TW short stories with Michael Urie and directed by David Kaplan, the head of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival. I had given David a copy of my first album, New York Romance, and he contacted me and said he needed a peculiarly versatile singer for a show he wanted to do. It turned out to be Tennessee Williams: Words and Music, and he thought I would be a good fit. It’s a compilation of American Songbook songs TW always included in his various plays (Cat‘s “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” for example) and pieces of text from various plays that all meshed into an extraordinary theatrical journey. Once the jaw-droppingly talented Allison Leyton-Brown was on board as the musical director, arranger, and onstage pianist—backed by our great seven-piece band, “The Gentleman Callers”—the show became magical. We recorded it in New Orleans, and it’s available on Ghostlight Records. And, it’s great. Then I worked with Shirley Knight, one of Tennessee Williams’ muses, in the world premiere of TW’s last play, In Masks Outrageous and Austere, which was a wild Off-Broadway production that got better and better and wilder and wilder as the weeks went on. Dangerous, lyrical, thrilling theatre.
I was approached by Matt de Rogatis about Cat on a Hot Tin Roof about two years ago and met with him and Joe Rosario, who told me about his unique concept for the Pollitts. He wanted them to be attractive, sexually viable, very nouveau riche and entitled. As I recall, one of the terms he used was “Kardashian.” And, that was something that really appealed to me. It’s right in the text that these two were sleeping with each other up to the time he started getting sick with terminal colon cancer. I lived with a man with colon cancer, my late husband Rusty Magee, and as I read the script, I felt I really understood the mercurial moods these two people in health trauma were experiencing due to physical reactions to treatment or emotional distress. I do believe there is real love and was real passion between them, and the fact that they stayed together over 40 years attests to this. But sickness, in addition to alcoholism in the family, foments major tension in a household. Once I met my Big Daddy, the glorious, utterly charming, smart as a whip New Orleans native Christian Le Blanc on Zoom, Big Mama fell utterly in love. And, when we finally got together? The more he rages against the storm, the more Big Mama loves him, and will fiercely protect him. Till death do they part.
Plus CBS interview with Christian LeBlanc, also starring in this production of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF: