BWW Interview: Joanna Gleason of WINTER AT THE PLAYHOUSE: A HOLIDAY BENEFIT CONCERT at Westport Country Playhouse
Is there anything Joanna Gleason can't do and do well? Nothing that we can think of. Area theatergoers will no doubt want to see Gleason host "Winter at the Playhouse: A Holiday Benefit Concert" in Westport in December. The Tony Award winner (as Best Actress in a Musical in Into the Woods) will bring her vocal group of three singers called The Moontones and will head a cast of Broadway performers including some Westport Country Playhouse alumni.
Gleason is no stranger to the Westport Country Playhouse. After she and her husband, Chris Sarandon, left Los Angeles and moved to Fairfield she discovered that the legendary theater was not far away. Word got out that they are Fairfield County residents and the playhouse offered them opportunities such as a Valentine's Day reading, Sedition, and Script-in-Hand productions. "It's just part of being in the theater community and the Fairfield County community," she says.
"When you're young, you take any job you can get," she recalls. After more than four decades in show business, she reached "a wonderful place where" she can choose her roles and have the privilege of working with luminaries such as Aaron Sorkin and Tina Fey. "It's about working with people you want to work with," she says. "If it's a long-term commitment," however, "the character has to be intelligent enough, interesting enough, and essential to the plot."
Interesting seems to be the key word for her when it comes to projects, both professionally and personally. When she and her husband wanted to relocate, they fell in love with "a house that needed a tremendous amount of love." Her work in theater, television, and film is very diverse. She is most proud of her roles in Into the Woods, Sons of the Prophet, and Boogie Nights as well as anything she did for Sorkin. "I'm also proud that Diane English (Murphy Brown) ushered me into directing in television," she says. "I've watched the best [directors]. I paid attention. I've written some features. [You] get your feet wet and see what it's all about on a smaller scale." Gleason is directing a short feature she wrote. "The work I want to do is pretty much the work I generate."
Gleason is also doing an autobiographical theater piece with music called Out of the Eclipse. "IT was tough, real, cathartic for me," she says, and "People are responding to it in an amazing way." She did the show at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts of Fairfield University and will be taking it to Los Angeles's Renberg Theatre in February 2020.
What were her most challenging roles? She says, "The only challenge is when you're doing eight shows a week. It's physically exhausting." Now there's also the commute from Fairfield County to New York. She adds, "Staying healthy [during] the flu season and allergies."
Are there roles she would still like to play? She doesn't have a hankering to do Shakespeare or Ibsen. "I'll know it when I see it," she explains. "I've been lucky I've been the first persons to play some roles."
What would she like to be best known for playing? "That's not up to me. There are people who know me from three episodes of Friends [or] Boogie Nights. If you have a large group of people, the vote will be divided."
When not performing, she teaches acting students from high school to adults and serious amateurs to professionals. She claims she takes the "same approach" as other acting teachers "because the same approach is true." But she has them "bring in a song, a ballad from Broadway, Off Broadway, or the Great American Songbook. I need to see if they can tell me a story. I need to see if they're thinking while they're singing."
Does she have any unfulfilled ambitions? She says she "more often now I make it happen. I don't wait around. I have a great big life that includes teaching, children, [and], grandchildren. There's not a lot of waiting....I love being here and love the endless opportunity to be part of a community."
Winter at the Playhouse: A Holiday Benefit Concert starring Joanna Gleason plays for one night only on Saturday, December 14 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $50 (with limited availability), $100, and $250. The $250 ticket includes VIP post-show reception with members of the cast. For more information, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.