Her reign is true: Alison Burns

The award-winning local actor and performer is home after a fairy-tale run Off-Broadway.

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Alison Burns is back from the Big Apple.

The actress arrived in Tampa a few weeks ago after appearing for seven months in Disenchanted!, the very funny musical revue about wised-up Disney princesses that played at the Straz Center before moving Off-Broadway. Onstage, she brought us relatable versions of The Little Mermaid, Belle and Rapunzel at Theatre at St. Clements and then to the Westside Theatre. It looked like the show was going to run forever at the Westside, but then it abruptly (one week’s notice) closed and six performers were out of work. Alison Burns came home.

“No one expected it, but that’s the Broadway business for you, I guess,” the smiling, effervescent Burns told me. In fact, she’d been gently forewarned of the show’s mortality prior to the official announcement. One of the producers had heard that she was about to move her whole family up to New York — her partner Chris Jackson and their two daughters — and wanted to caution her before it was too late.

Nonetheless, the ending came as a shock: the New York reviews had been pretty good (“A girls’-night-out retro rebellion for the suburban oppressed,” said the New York Times), and the crowds were big. “All we were told is just, the money fell through,” Burns said. It was also rumored that audience size had been augmented with free tickets, so maybe packed houses didn’t tell the whole story.

How did Burns like New York?

“I loved it,” she said. She’d gone to acting school in the city, and “to be able to go back and actually do a show — first of all, it was a bucket list dream of mine, to be Off-Broadway.”

During the first part of her stay, she lived in Astoria, in Queens, and after that roomed with fellow Disenchanted! actress Lulu Picart in Brooklyn, “which was awesome — we had a really, really cute place.” She found the level of activity in New York exhilarating: “I love the vibe there. Everything’s so alive, and there’s always something to do.”

She acquired an agent, and regularly auditioned for other shows, sometimes as often as three times a week. But not even the most encouraging callbacks worked out, and the competition was huge: “I went to one call with Lulu, it was an open call ... the signup started at 9, I got there at 8, thinking that was early enough ... and there were just hundreds of Equity actors standing in line to be seen.” Which reminded her of an earlier decision not to live in New York unless she was working there. “’Cause it’s too hard, and it’s too expensive. And I can live in my nice town here, and not have to be a waitress, and find other ways to teach or to do shows here, and not have to struggle. ... If I’d stayed in New York, I would definitely be poor.”

What was the most exciting thing about being in the Apple? “We were in Times Square on a moving billboard, so like, to walk by and be able to look up and your giant face is in Times Square — that was unbelievable. And then we were on phone booths, we were on the garages where people park. ... And then just getting to meet other casts that would come on Monday, ’cause we had Monday night shows so industry people could come. And so people would come see your show and be like, ‘Oh I’m in Fun Home or I’m in Hedwig, and you’re awesome.’ And you’re like, ‘What? You’re awesome.’” Also, Burns said, it was thrilling to walk out the stage door at night and find people clamoring for her autograph.

Then what was the worst thing? “Not having my family there. That was really hard for us.” Anything else? “Lulu and I lived like really far in Brooklyn, ’cause that’s the cheapest thing you’re going to get, so we’re talking about on a good day, it was an hour commute. On a bad day, like if a train was broken, it could take you three hours.”

As to Burns’s immediate future, she returns to NYC at the end of the month to co-headline a cabaret show with Picart. There’s also talk of opening Disenchanted! in various U.S. cities — Chicago, Las Vegas, Atlanta — with the Off-Broadway company starting each run; there’s also the prospect of a cast recording. But Burns told me her real focus now is getting back on stage locally.

“I think the twinge for me comes for performing, and not necessarily New York. … The longer I’m here, the more I just long to perform again. New York is the bigger scale. But here is just as exciting once you’re actually on the stage.” 

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