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A Staples Players Legend

What's Up with Alisan Porter

Article by Robin Moyer Chung

Photography by Jen Rosenstein

Originally published in Westport Lifestyle

To many Westporters of a certain age, Curly Sue was a coming-of-age movie, the kind of flick you watched multiple times and would stop and stare if you spotted it playing on a nearby screen.

The totemic role of Curly Sue was played by Westporter Alisan Porter. She had roles in several movies, including Parenthood, and numerous roles in TV shows such as The Golden Girls, Family Ties, and Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

The daughter of a Broadway actress and a musician, Alisan’s family moved to Westport when she was 12. Though she had renounced her acting days, the lure of Al Pia and the Staples Players lured back to the stage where she continued her love of singing, dancing, and acting.

Theatre led her to star turns on Broadway, season 10 winner of The Voice, and several albums.

We talked to Alisan, now in California, about her star turns, sobriety, and plans for her future.

WLM: You moved to Westport in time for 8th grade. Were you done with professional acting at that point?

AP: Yeah, I was kind of over it. I really wanted to just be like a regular kid and experience, you know, school and not having to leave for rehearsals and auditions. My dad was working in New York. I don't really know exactly why we chose Westport specifically, but I know that it was a quick ride into the city for my dad.

WLM: But then you discovered the Staples Players…

AP: The first year I was in Westport I saw Carousel at Staples. I was like, how are these people so talented and how is this production so huge? How do I get in there?

Which was interesting because I was I really wanted to be out of the spotlight. And then as soon as I got into players, it was all I wanted to be. I got my first lead the second semester of my freshman year. I was Anita in West Side Story.

WLM: After Staples, you went to Broadway where you played, among other roles, Bebe in A Chorus Line. “At the Ballet” is one of my favorite songs. What was that like?

AP: It was a crazy experience because my mom played the same part 30 years before me. I had grown up knowing that my mom was in the first national tour.

WLM: Oh my goodness! So when you went in to audition, did you specifically audition for that role?

AP: Yeah, I auditioned for Bebe and Maggie. She had played both. The audition was part of the documentary Every Little Step. Once I got the first or second round, I went in for the same people who had hired my mom. In the movie I say, “I would get punished" if I didn't say ‘Hi’ to you from my mother.

WLM: You talk a lot about your sobriety. Do you remember the point you decided to call your mom and ask for help?

AP: Hang on one second (laughs). That squirrel will not leave my chicken coop alone! Ella [her dog], you gotta get out there and regulate! They eat the chicken feed.

WLM: Squirrels are obnoxious.

AP: I didn't really have structure growing up. It was like, what show are you doing? Or what movie, or this or that. And you're kind of thrust into this very adult world, and you don't really have the chance to mature, and you don't have the chance to do things on the right timeline.

I was doing A Chorus Line in New York [for the second time]. I felt a little stifled in my creativity. A Chorus Line is a very specific show. You have to do it a very specific way and it's an emotional show.

I was being pulled in these two different directions. Of course, I got this amazing opportunity to do this Broadway show, but at the same time, I wanted to just be an artist. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t living my truth.

WLM: So you achieved everyone's dream job and that wasn't fulfilling for you, which is fascinating.

AP: When you're doing a Broadway show, you get up, you go to the theater, you warm up, you do the show, you do it once or twice, you go home, you go out with friends, you party, you come home, you sleep. It's kind of groundhog day. I didn’t thrive. I need to be creative.

Everything was going down the tubes. And I was like, I don't want to be this cliché, this quintessential ex-child star who’s a drug addict. This is just so stupid. I'm just super grateful that I got that opportunity. A lot of my peers didn't.

I love sobriety. It’s given me a very beautiful, very full life.

WLM: Then what do you do?

AP: I came back to LA, I got myself into an amazing band and I wrote some of the best music of my life. I played shows all over, learned how to co-write songs, and got my first publishing deal.

WLM: How did you get on The Voice?

AP: I didn't really decide. Somebody decided for me and I got a letter saying, you have an audition. I was like, this is weird.

WLM: As a professional actress and singer, were you a little bit nervous? Or did you feel confident?

AP: I was trepidatious about the fact that I was a former professional actor and singer, and was that going to be weird? But I wanted the opportunity to sing and to be discovered in a different way.f

WLM: Everyone seemed pretty sure you were going to win this thing.

AP: I tried not to think like that, 'cause you really just never know. And I was up against a country guy and they usually win.

WLM: You chose Christina Aguilera as your vocal coach. Do you still keep in touch?

AP: We keep in touch and have a lot of mutual friends. I wouldn’t say we talk every day but we definitely still have a relationship.

WLM: What are you up to now?

AP: I’m on my fourth season of the Masked Singer as vocal coach. I'm working on new music currently. I have a big feature coming out in October that I don't even know if I can talk about yet.

WLM: This is going to be in our November issue.

AP: Oh, perfect. So I have a feature with the Blues Travelers on their record.

WLM: Wow! And is there anything you’d like to say to your Westport peeps?

AP: Oh my God. Well, I just wish I could go to the diner right now and have a bacon, egg and cheese.

WLM: As do we all. By the way, you’re really well spoken.

AP: That’s Al Pia. Mr. Pia was all about diction and speaking clearly, and thinking before you speak. (Pauses) I really love Westport.

  • Alisan Porter