by Kathryn Bold, University Communications
Pete Case got an inkling that his daughter Allison might be destined for show business when she was only 6. While on vacation in Aspen, the Case family was relaxing in the ski lodge when he heard his daughter's voice over the loudspeakers. She'd slipped away to join a live band on stage and was entertaining the skiers.
"We sat there in amazement," he recalls. "She was singing all her favorite Disney songs."
Today he's still pretty amazed by his daughter — and so are theater-goers. Since she graduated from UCI in 2006, Allison Case has enjoyed a rapid rise on Broadway, impressing even the toughest critics with her joyful performances.
At 24, she's made her Broadway debut in a major show — as Sophie, the daughter in "Mamma Mia!" She's now rehearsing for the role of Crissy in "Hair," which opens on Broadway in March.
Case loves playing Crissy because she's an antidote to dark times.
"Crissy has such a light, such a positive, childlike energy about her, and I try to put that out into the world as well," she says. "People are down because of the economy, and here comes this show that pleads with you to let the sun shine in. With acting, you can really affect people. That's important to me — to give them hope and a new perspective."
She first performed the part for The Public Theater in Lower Manhattan and the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park. In his review of the show, The New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley wrote:
"I will forever be haunted by the vision of Allison Case, the charmingly dewy actress who sings the memorable 'Frank Mills,' scrunching up her face and stomping her foot like a child in a temper, as her character rails against the injustice of the Vietnam War. It's the rawness of that image that gets to me."
Robert Cohen, Claire Trevor Professor of Drama, first noticed Case's emotional breadth at a rehearsal of his production of "Pedro Gynt" — when she was in the audience, not the cast.
"As she watched the rehearsal, I found myself staring more at her than the actors. I had never seen an audience member take in the action so fully, like she was living each actor's part," Cohen recalls. "She has this capacity to take things in that's absolutely remarkable. A kind of innocence, exuberance and commitment flows out of her."
A picture of Case — radiating sheer delight — adorns the official "Hair" poster.
"She's the logo for the show," Cohen says. "Of all the people they could have chosen from the cast, why did they put her on the poster? What is it about her? There are no words. It's not sex appeal. It's not like she's a vamp. She simply has an innate enthusiasm and infectious spirit."
Case grew up in Orange County and wanted to be a singing veterinarian or pro hockey player before she fell in love with theater in high school, performing in South Coast Repertory's professional conservatory. She got serious about acting while studying drama at UCI.
"At UCI, I was challenged in a lot of different ways. Going to acting class, having amazing teachers, living in the dorms, being outside my comfort zone — all of these experiences shaped who I am and gave me more to draw from," she says.
Soon after graduating and moving to New York, she landed a big role — as a fish. She played Nemo in the Disney World production of "Finding Nemo: The Musical" — a part that required her to master puppetry.
"Nemo weighed 7 to 8 pounds. Just holding him was foreign to me," she says. "I spent hours figuring out how to make his eyes blink and move his mouth to the music, but one day it clicked. Eventually, I became one with the puppet."
Case, who wants to continue in live theater but also auditions for roles in film and television, has found the key to landing parts like Nemo and Crissy is to simply let her own light shine in.
"In New York, I see a lot of people trying to mold you into something you're not," she says. "What I've learned is that you never know what they're looking for, so the best thing to do is be yourself."