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By Sylviane Gold
There are several Alisan Porters. There’s the corkscrew-haired moppet who played the title role in the 1991 John Hughes film Curly Sue. There’s the kohl-eyed rocker who fronts her own band, the Alisan Porter Project. There’s the belter who wowed L.A. theater critics in the musical The Ten Commandments. But the Alisan Porter who was on view at rehearsals for the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line was all studio rat, a third-generation dancer with brown hair tumbling over her face and kick-steps precisely timed to everyone else’s. Even as part of a unison ensemble, her powerful presence and strong technique were apparent.
The role of Bebe, one of the three chorus kids who sing and dance the wistful “At the Ballet” number in the show, is not just a big break for Porter. It’s more like destiny. Her grandmother is Charlotte Klein, who has been a mainstay of dance education in central Massachusetts for more than 50 years. Her mother is Laura Klein, who danced in A Chorus Line (as Bebe, among other roles) on the road and who now teaches at California Dance Theatre, in Agoura Hills, California.
The petite, trim Porter, who began training in Worcester, Massachusetts, with her mother and grandmother, has an extensive resume for a 25-year-old. She was in her first dance recital at 3, the same year she began doing television commercials in New York. At five she appeared on "Star Search," a 1980s precursor to "American Idol," and became a five-time junior vocalist champion. In Hollywood, she acted in movies and television until she turned 13. Then she switched her focus to competitive dance—“I was ready for a change,” she says—and did Dance Masters of America every summer between the ages of 12 and 19.
She moved with her family to Fairfield, Connecticut, where the high school theater program crystallized her ambition to work in musical theater. And it led her to other influential teachers: Frank Hatchett, Gus Giordano, Mia Michaels, Joe Lanteri, Laurie Kanyok. “Being able to sing and dance and act all at once is sort of what I was made for,” she says. “For me, there’s nothing like the immediate gratification of being on a live stage.”
That’s not how her mother felt about it. “What Ali thrives on made me nervous,” says Klein. After her stint in Chorus Line, she did one more Broadway musical and then went back to teaching dance. But the gold top hat she wore in the show's finale was always on the mantle, where young Alisan couldn’t help but notice.
“ ‘Chorus Line’ was always like another family member,” Porter says. “‘What I Did for Love’ is the first song I ever sang. When I got the call about the show from my agent, in my brain there was no yes or no. I had already planned my life knowing I had to get this gig. It was life or death.”
She went to a work session in Los Angeles with the show’s casting agent, Jay Binder, and then was invited to audition in New York. “I got called back, and then got the final callback. And after two days of not sleeping and freaking and gagging, my agent called and told me to pack my bags—I was gonna be Bebe. I shrieked, I cried, I yelled. I couldn't believe it!”
Bob Avian, the original co-choreographer of the show, is directing the Chorus Line revival (see “The Gypsy in Them,” p. TK). “Bebe,” he says, “is a hard part to cast. She doesn’t have much material, but she has to make an impression. When I saw Alisan, she solved it for me—she brings so much personality to it.”
Porter’s take on the role is simple: “I feel like I am her. I could connect to her more than anyone I've ever played. She’s Jewish and I’m Jewish. She comes from Boston and I come from Worcester. She's a dancer and I’m a dancer. She connects with ballet and I connect with ballet. She has crushes on boys, and I have a crush on a boy. She deals with an issue—whether she will ever be good enough to make people proud. And I think every woman deals with that issue. It definitely wasn’t a stretch to tap into her.”
As much as she may identify with Bebe, however, sooner or later the gig will end. “When you leave A Chorus Line, you live A Chorus Line,” says Laura Klein. Then Porter will be taking all three Alisans—the actress, the singer and the dancer—on to yet another audition.
Sylviane Gold is Dance Magazine’s On Broadway columnist.