Actress and singer Joanna Gleason took the stage of the Manhattan nightspot in a sparkling black dress, accompanied by the quartet Well Strung.
"Before you've finished your two-drink minimum," she joked, "you're going to know more about me than you want to." Gleason, whose stage credits include I Love My Wife, Into the Woods, Nick & Nora and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, filled the evening with entertaining songs from her career and moving personal stories from her life.
In between renditions of Robert Allen and Al Stillman's "It's Not For Me To Say," Rodgers and Hart's "Where Or When" and Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal's "I Can Dream, Can't I?," Gleason described a childhood and adolescence of feeling isolated from her peers. To escape these feelings, she would fantasize about singing with a nightclub band and carrying on a passionate affair with a drummer, all the while while dancing a sultry rendition of the tango.
"I was clearly a young girl in search of a drama department," Gleason said, before explaining her high school career consisted of playing various character roles in musicals (including the Homeliest Woman in Iowa from The Music Man). A parody of Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" followed. Gleason also shared details about her first marriage in Los Angeles, the birth of her son and her subsequent divorce and relocation to New York. Describing the time away from her child, she shared poignant memories about missing her family.
Gleason then reminisced about playing The Baker's Wife in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. She introduced her co-star Chip Zien, who played The Baker, as "the only actor who has the distinction of being 'belted' by me." The two sang a charming duet of Lerner and Loewe's "I Remember It Well," with lyrics that explored their time together in Into the Woods. She then performed a lovely, understated rendition of "Moments in the Woods."
Gleason sang Jimmy van Heusen and Johnny Burke's "But Beautiful" while sharing the story of how she met her husband, Chris Sarandon, during the ill-fated production of Nick & Nora, and Sondheim's "Stay With Me" while describing her sadness as her son left for college. She shared her homesickness for New York as well as her happiness in her family with "Let's Go Home" by Charles Strouse and Richard Maltby and "You Can Close Your Eyes" by James Taylor. To illuminate the joy she felt when her son moved to New York, she sang a touching rendition of "I Believe in Love" by Marty Stuart, Martie Seidel and Natalie Maines. Billy Joel's "And So It Goes" was a haunting encore.
And, that longed-for tango? Before concluding the concert, Gleason twirled her way across the stage doing just that.
[Gleason performs a final concert at 54 Below Oct. 23 at 9:30 PM. 54 is located at 254 W. 54th Street. Tickets and additional information are available at 54below.com.]