Alison Fraser: A Masterly Performance

Tennessee Williams needed music in order to write. After an ingestion of strong coffee, Tenn  found inspiration by turning to albums, which he claimed dropped with a comforting thud on his console as he faced the pale judgment and created characters who spoke to him.  The ideal day began with Bach, which cleared his mind and allowed him to talk to the particular God who might be available on that day. Strings meant a lot to him, and certain plays grew out of a day that was heavily instrumental. There were Morgana King days and Lee Wiley days; there were days when the Beatles played over and over; Margaret Whiting was a constant, as were the Mills Brothers and Nat King Cole. Tenn, however, was always looking for and finding new musical sparks, as he called them, and he had surprising favorites: He told me that he could not trust anyone who did not feel emotional upon hearing either “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” by Simon and Garfunkel, or “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell. Ella Fitzgerald floored him, and he adored Barbara Streisand, but only in small doses (“She works too hard,” he claimed, “and I’m working here too: One of us has to calm down.”)

There is a new album that I think might inspire creative inspiration in many of us  even as it pays homage to Tennessee Williams and the music that one can find in his plays. It is called Tennessee Williams: Words and Music and it is a masterly performance—musical and theatrical and literary—by Alison Fraser. I would suggest approaching Tennessee Williams: Words and Music two ways, and I would suggest doing this on a regular basis. Initially, one should play the album in the way Tenn preferred-with eyes closed or in the dark, listening to every word as well as the particular and magical way that Fraser juggles and caresses and swats them aside. At another time, listen to the album while reading the notes that have been provided by David Kaplan, a Williams scholar who directed the show from which this album is derived, and who allows you to see how these songs were woven into plays like A Streetcar Named Desire and Clothes for a Summer Hotel.  You will know the songs, particularly standards like “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” or “If I Didn’t Care” (arguably Tenn’s favorite song of all time), as well as the Oscar-winning oddity “Sweet Leilani,” but you will experience them in an entirely different way as you learn how they were utilized to bring another woman—another Williams woman plucked from the fog—to life. 

Alison Fraser

Even if you listen to this album with no interest in their connection to plays—whether by Williams or another playwright—you will marvel at Fraser’s performance, as she moves from seductive to playful to battered. At a time when so many musical actresses cannot sing a song in character, it is a joy to listen to Fraser, who brings an entirely different and fully realized character to each song. This is an inhabited musical actress and I cannot recommend this album enough. It will warrant new words as I continue to listen to it and as I re-read the plays from which they are pulled and for which they no doubt inspired Tenn to “dance and throw some words around.” Alison Fraser deftly and magically throws some words around, and so many of Tenn’s friends—his women—are alive again.

To sample and purchase Alison Fraser's Tennessee Williams: Words and Music, visit this website:

Produced by Alison Fraser & Allison Leyton-Brown

Musical Direction by Allison Leyton-Brown
Trombone & Ukulele: J. Walter Hawkes
Bass: James Singleton
Drums: Wayne Maureau
Saxophone: Jason Mingledorff
Trumpet & Cornet: Bobby Campo
Guitar: John Eubanks


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