Sweeter than Honey: Allison Case on playing good girls and her enduring friendship with the Hair Tribe

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Allison Case as Miss Honey

There isn’t anything “pathetic” about the impressive career Allison Case has experienced on Broadway. Known for her bubbly, sweet personality Case is one of the most beloved actresses in theatre – both onstage and off. With a handful of memorable roles as overtly kind-hearted, benevolent characters, Case carried her trademark of playing leading ladies with a heart of gold to the Shubert Theatre where she has played the mild-tempered Miss Honey in the Tony Award winning musical Matilda since last September.

Case made her Broadway debut as the leading lady and bride-to-be Sophie Sheridan in Mamma Mia! but it was her first original role in the 2009 revival of Hair that really put Case on the map. Starring alongside some of Broadway’s biggest names, Case played the free-spirited hippie Crissy and solidified her standing as a rising star on Broadway. Her other roles include Kelli Mangrum in the original Broadway musical Hands on a Hardbody and Miriam in the off-Broadway musical Fly By Night

As Matilda embarks on its final months on Broadway (the production is set to close January 1, 2017), Case spoke with Stage Door Dish about her experience since joining the musical last fall.

Before you joined Matilda, did you get a chance to see any of the other Miss Honeys perform?

Yes, I did actually. I saw the show last January. I saw Alison Luff perform and she was amazing.

Rick Holmes mentioned that he isn’t about stealing from past actors who have played the character. Did you do any of that with Miss Honey?

I didn’t because it was two different experiences for me. I saw the show and then six months later, I ended up auditioning for it. I didn’t remember anything. I remembered the story. I re-read the book. I remember being fascinated. I was like, ‘Gosh, I read this so long ago.’ It was fascinating to read that and see how the show was born from that, and also what was in the book that could help inspire what I’m doing onstage. 

Did you find it easier to connect with the adults in the show since you all joined at the same time?

It was really cool how that happened. When you replace, you never know if you’re going to go in with people or by yourself. It was such an awesome group of people. I feel so lucky. I love Rick so much; he makes me laugh every day. His dressing room is on my floor along with Chris Sieber. We have a lot of fun up here. Our doors are always open, Rick [Holmes] is always making all of us laugh, there’s always music playing. It was cool to have some time in rehearsal with them before we started this part of the experience. I clicked right away with Amy as well. She’s so awesome and so sweet. It was really fun.

Do you read as much as Miss Honey does?

I go through phases where I’m a crazy reader and I go through phases where I’m not. I’m a big music person. I always have to have my headphones on; I’m always listening to music on the train. I also love podcasts a lot. It varies. I’m always in a music phase, but sometimes I’ll be in a podcast phase or a reading phase. 

What have you been listening to lately?

I like to make playlists on Spotify of a bunch of random stuff I find or even songs that I hear in yoga classes. I love a lot of Bon Iver. I keep the Beatles going. I love Sara Bareilles. I’m listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat. I was kind of late to the game. I just saw it a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t listen to the soundtrack, I hadn’t watched anything on it. I hadn’t read anything because I wanted to go in fully new and having that experience. It was amazing. But now I get to do the whole soundtrack thing. I feel like I’m reliving a time when I did the same thing with the Rent soundtrack back in the day. That’s been fun. Who else am I listening to? Ben Howard. I like Laura Marling. 

What is a book that you read recently that you loved?

I loved Wonder. It’s technically a young adult book, but somebody recommended it. My wife and I read it at the same time, and we were obsessed. It’s so good. 

Could you see yourself playing a villain character after you’ve played mostly nice people?

People ask me this a lot. They ask, ‘Are you mean?’ or ‘Can you be mean?’ ‘Can you be mad?’ I can be all of those things. You never know. It has to be the right fit. Some people can just do it really well, and they’d probably get cast over me. I feel okay about that. If the opportunity ever came, I would love to. That would be fun.

If you could play one of the school kids in Matilda for a day, which one would you pick and why?

I would play Lavender or Bruce. Bruce because he gets to eat all of the cake and it looks really fun. Lavender looks so fun. She’s mischievous and funny. She has some fun little bits to do in the show. 

What is it like to work with actors who might not even be ten years old yet?

It’s amazing. I’m having the time of my life. I hadn’t really worked with kids before. Then, right before I started Matilda, I filmed a miniseries for HBO called The Young Pope. I was in charge of these two little kids. I was like, ‘I’m grown up. I’m in charge of children now.’ Then, I got to do Matilda. It’s been awesome. I’ve become very close with a lot of the kids. I go up to their dressing room all the time at intermission. We play lots of games. We play BS. We play pickup sticks. We play ‘Hey girl hey.’ We play a bunch of games that they made up. We make up skits. They’re the best. They’ve taught me so much. They’re so inspiring. They keep things light and fun. They are a good reminder to not take yourself too seriously and to be happy. We’re so lucky to do what we do, and we have a great job. It’s a nice reminder. They don’t do anything to remind you, they just do by being who they are. They find good kids here at Matilda. Every kid who I’ve met on the process has a place in a my heart. 

Is there a scene in the show that you’re not in but that you wish that you could be a part of?

‘Telly.’ I’m usually eating a snack and I hear it over the intercom every day. I think it’s wicked hilarious. I think it would be fun. The interaction with the audience and everything. 

I wanted to talk about Hair since you were in it for such a long time. What was it to work with the same group of actors in four different theaters and on two different continents?

It was truly life changing. I feel blessed to have been a part of that group of people. They’re so special. We really became a family. Even in all that time between the concert and the full version, we saw each other all of the time. We were like, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen.’ Every time it was like being reborn again with the same family. Sometimes new people would join and in two seconds, they were part of the tribe. It was really cool. It felt so much bigger than a show. It felt like a movement. It felt like a family. It was a super special thing. We still talk about how life changing it was and what an impact it had on all of our lives. We’re still really close. Andrew Kober married me a year ago, and Caissie Levy and Kacie Sheik sang while we walked down the aisle. We have stayed super close. London was amazing. London may have been my favorite version of Hair. To be somewhere totally new and experiencing it together, something outside of the show without the distractions of other responsibilities and other people. It was really about us. They dropped us off in London, and were like, ‘Bye.’ I remember the first night we had no cell phones. It was like, ‘Everybody meet at this place. Good luck. Hopefully, we’ll see you there.’ Adventures like that and traveling. I get homesick for that time. 

Did you notice any differences between West End and New York in terms of theater?

Hair is a very American show. I think it played differently here than it did there. Audience tend to be listening and be quieter. It was the same of thing. We were next door to Les Mis. I remember between shows we would come out and be like, ‘Hey what’s going on?’ It was cool. It was an instant community that made us feel a part of something even though we didn’t know anybody. Everybody was so nice over there and welcoming. Our swings in London were all British. That was a cool thing. 

Do you have a favorite story about the tribe?

When we were in the park, that was so special to be outside and to be at the theater. I remember our opening night of the full version of Shakespeare in the Park. It rained a couple of times during our time in the park, and one was our opening night. It started to rain just at the curtain call. I remember everybody being out there and we were feeling the rain. Everybody came onstage to dance. It felt like this crazy human-nature-spirit love connection. It was this celebration, and it was so cool. Along those lines, another night it rained right after the trip, so everybody was kind of coming out of it.  All of a sudden, the heavens opened and it started pouring. It was when we were doing ‘Three-Five-Zero-Zero,’ which in itself is so powerful. Everyone felt like they had a religious experience. It’s not anything we could explain, but the timing of it and the way it felt was just overwhelming. I remember that. I remember us all being completely soaked backstage in the halls together, half-clothed because our stuff was literally soaked, and being like, ‘Oh my god. This is crazy’ and hugging. You couldn’t sit still. Everybody was running around. It was really cool. 

You and Andrew Kober did a radio show together and you performed in a 54 Below concert with him. If you could do another musical with him, what would it be and who would each of you play?

We did a concert not that long ago, maybe a year ago called ‘This is 30.’ We did a medley of songs that we’re too old to play now. We did a few Spring Awakening songs and we loved it. We kind of missed the boat on Spring Awakening. We got too old but I would love to do it. I think he’d be great in it. He could play so many parts. Imagine us at 15 years old. I feel like I would play Anna. No, maybe Ilse. He would probably play Melchior. He’s a leading guy. 

Did you get a chance to see him and Gavin Creel in She Loves Me yet?

I haven’t. Our schedules are the same. Hopefully, we’re going to have a Wednesday off. We have a couple of Thursday matinees. I’m hoping that when our schedules line up to see it, but I haven’t been able to see it yet. 

What would you do a competition for similar to the one in Hands on a Hardbody? How long do you think you would last in a competition like that?

The first thing that comes to mind is peace, but that’s not a tangible thing. There’s a lot going on in the world that I wish I could fix. What would I do it for? Free airfare, so that I could go see my family whenever I wanted – they’re in California. Also, to travel. How long would I last? I don’t trust myself with that kind of thing. I would get very excited and I’d be very prepared. I would snacks for days. I would have comfy shoes. I would start to do very well, but when I get tired, it’s not good. I fall asleep wherever I am. That worries me. I would definitely last a day. I would be nervous for me after that. If it’s really right there, maybe I could pull it together. 

Of your past Broadway characters, which do you think is the most like yourself? Did you have a hard time relating to any of them?

I hold them all very close to my heart. They all hold a piece of me at different points in my life. I’m close to all of them. But at the time, there was something that was happening in my life that I brought to each character. That’s why it’s special. I can think back on shows, and more than the show, I can remember my life or what was going on or who I was dating or the experience in itself and what obstacles I had to overcome to do it. They’re all really special. Crissy was really special because it was for so long. I feel like I grew up as Crissy. It was my first job in New York and it was for many many years. I met some of the best friends of my life. That one is definitely really special. Hands on a Hardbody was so incredible, so special. Same with Mamma Mia. Now this. This is really cool. It’s a different thing for me. I always joke that I became a woman, an adult, in Matilda. There have been changes in my life. We all, at some point have struggled to figure out where we fit in, not that we have to fit in anywhere. But just as you grow up, things change and things are different and this is a really cool thing for me. I was kind of scared about it, but I learned so much – not only from Miss Honey, how amazing and strong and kind and two-sided she is, but also this experience as a whole. Again, working with the kids. It’s been a cool time. 

Do you prefer originating a character or being a replacement, since you’ve done both?

I like them both. They both have their amazing things; they both have their interesting things. There’s obviously certain boundaries when you’re replacing. You need to cross left when you’re told and stuff like that, so nobody dies. Besides the framework, I try to treat it like originating because it’s the first time that I’m doing it. It’s my version of it. Because rehearsals are so quick –  I learned Matilda in two and a half weeks – it’s very scary to start. You haven’t had that much rehearsal, and you haven’t even worked with everybody that you’re going to work with. I constantly want to improve. You have to do that in front of an audience and not get your time. Once you trust that it’s good enough because this is where you are right now, you give yourself the freedom to just do it and explore even though you’re in front of a ton of people and see what happens. Then you find your way until one day you feel weird and you change it. 

Your wife’s [Ashley Connors] proposal was written about on websites that didn’t even have anything to do with Broadway and I thought that was awesome. Can you talk about that a little? Did you have any idea that it was going to happen?

Our neighbor – she didn’t know that it was us — she was working for the paper at the time, and she had somebody over. They looked out the window and they saw the proposal and she was like, ‘Oh my God!’ They started writing something about it, I think. We ran into her with the dogs – she has a dog – and she was like, ‘Oh my God. That was your proposal?’ She couldn’t believe it. She was like, ‘Please, I need to write something.’ And she did. I didn’t even know if it would be published or what the deal was going to be. It was definitely a surprise. Actually, Ashley’s sister lives in London and she wrote her. It was so crazy. She saw it over there. I think maybe even before we saw it, which was so funny. It was so magical. 

What have you learned from marriage?

I’ve learned how important a team is. Having a team and loving someone way more than yourself. It’s interesting. I came to New York and my dream was to be on Broadway. I feel so crazy beyond blessed, even grateful, that I got to do it. When I met Ash, I wasn’t working as much. It was cool. I had the time to build that. Once I built that, I got to work and go back to the schedule. We have opposite schedules, so I don’t get to see her as much. But we know that we’re there. It has taught me how important so many things are in my life outside of this art and acting and all this stuff. I knew it was number one, but not until I met my person. I would do anything in the world for her, for her health, for her happiness, for anything. I am overwhelmed. I just love her so much.

You post a lot of inspirational quotes on social media. Is there one that you live by?

I remember reading this quote one time: ‘She realized that none of it was real and set herself free.’ It seems deep or ‘hippie-dippie’ but I remember being really affected by it. If you’re having a hard day, or if someone is talking bad about you. If somebody is not being nice, or if it’s not going your way, or if you’re finding yourself in a rabbit hole. It hit home. At the end of the day, there’s really only a few things that really truly matter. If you remember that, you can be like, ‘Oh wow. Okay, cool. That’s what they think about me, and guess what? That’s what they think about me. It’s none of my business. It doesn’t matter.’

If you weren’t acting, what would be doing?

I would go into Psychology for sure. I would open a wellness center, an auto shop, a coffee shop turned wine bar. I don’t know. I think it would be fun to start something from its roots. I would love to create a space for people to go to that feels like a vacation, but it’s not very far. 

If you could work with someone that you’ve already worked with, who would it be and why?

I think the cast and company and director – the whole ensemble – of Hands on a Hardbody because we did this really cool thing, but we didn’t get enough time. So, I would love to be in a room again with those people. Neil [Pepe] and Trey [Anastasio] and Amanda [Green] and the entire cast. I’m still really close with some of them but Connie Ray and Elizabeth Monteleone and Keala [Settle]– I just love them and would love more time with them. 

If you could join the cast of any Broadway show, which would you choose and who would you play?

I would say Hamilton, but I don’t think it’s going very well for me for that choice. Nobody wants to hear me rap. Probably Waitress. I love Sara Bareilles. I love her music, and I love her lyrics so much. And Diane [Paulus]. And Lorin [Latarro]. And Nadia DiGiallonardo. It’s a woman’s extravaganza. It’s so cool. I don’t know who I’d play, but I love to be a part of it. 

What is something that people would be surprised to find out about you?

I used to play ice hockey. I love to play sports. Bring me to Chelsea Piers, and it’s my best day. Games in general. I love lawn games. I used to play roller hockey. I love tech gadgets. I love when new tech stuff comes out. I love learning about and seeing new technology. 

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