ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Getting Arty with Joanna Gleason and Hosting a Laugh Riot at the Chatterbox
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Ahhhh. (Second) home, sweet home. That's right, I'm in my second home… Provincetown! I'm beginning a summer of going back and forth from New York to the "Broadway at the Art House" series I started two years ago with Mark Cortale. Right now, I'm on my veranda at the beautiful Anchor Inn, overlooking Commercial Street with the Pilgrim monument to my right and delicious Joe's coffee to my left.
We began this year's series two nights ago with a show that has the most different format from any other show this summer. It all began last year when Joanna Gleason was on her first visit to Provincetown. She was walking down the street and someone on a bike rode by and yelled "I love you!" She responded by yelling, "Come back!" He indeed rode back and they chatted in front of the Art House and she saw the poster for the Broadway series. She then contacted me and Mark and told us her idea; essentially, she's like Angela Lansbury, who once told me that she loves to sing as a character but is very uncomfortable singing as herself.
Joanna asked if she could do an evening where the first act is a short play written by Michael Patrick King (who wrote "Sex and the City" and "The Comeback") and the second act would be me interviewing her a little and her singing a few songs. Last Friday and Saturday were her shows, and they were great! The first act was a play called Bloom where Joanna plays a soul in heaven who's giving a lecture to a large group of souls who are about to be reincarnated.
The play has so many funny parts, and the ending is quite moving. At the start, you find out that every soul has been given a random body just so they can get a sense of what it feels like to work one. Seeing Joanna try to walk with her new body was hilarious, unlike anything I've seen since since Robert Reed danced on the "Brady Bunch Variety Hour." Also, the souls, including Joanna, are wearing bodies that were all sorts of races and professions. Joanna has a tag attached to her side that gives info on what body she's wearing. "Let's see… two eyes, one nose, one mouth and breasts are… real! (She feels them to be sure.) I'm just surprised because it says I'm wearing an actress."
After the play, we took a little break and then act two began which was Joanna singing a song, backed up by her son Aaron, her husband Chris (Sarandon) and the singing string quartet known as "Well-Strung." After the opening, we chatted about her life and career. If you don't know, her father is Monty Hall, creator/host of "Let's Make a Deal," who is now 92 years old! Joanna said that the initial audiences for "Let's Make A Deal" used to arrive in suits and dresses with pearls until they realized that the crazier the dressed, the more likely they were to get picked. I asked her about her early days of TV ("Hello, Larry") and she told me that she did a lot of game shows during that period and she loved them because she's very competitive and always won. I found an episode of "Password" where she was on with McLean Stevenson, but they were playing the game as their characters from "Hello, Larry." Who were they playing against, you ask? Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence as Mama and Eunice! So fun...and bizarre!
Joanna spent her teenage years in California and went to Beverly Hills High School. I asked her if she had any classmates that became famous. She listed Michael Lembeck, Julie Kavner, Albert Brooks and Richard Dreyfus. I immediately said, "So many Jews"! I then asked if she went to Beverly Hills Yeshiva. Of course, we eventually got to Into the Woods and I asked if she influenced any of the writing. First, she said that when the show was out of town, she would finish singing "Moments in the Woods" and an apple would roll onstage. Later on, the audience would find out the apple was poisoned and she had died. She told the director that the audience was invested in her character and seemed to be disappointed that her death happened offstage. So, she soon got killed onstage and then came back as a ghost!
Also, while the show was being created, "Steve" (Sondheim) phoned and told her he was writing a song for her. He wanted to know if she had any suggestions. First, she turned to her husband and mouthed, "Oh my God!", then she told him what she thinks the Baker's Wife is feeling. She said, "What am I doing here? I'm in the wrong story." That was soon set to music and the rest is history. When the Tony Awards happened, she was nominated but the front-runner was Patti LuPone (for Anything Goes). Joanna said that she was so shocked when her name was called that her head snapped backwards and she literally had whiplash! I asked Patti about that night and she recalled thinking she was "on acid" when she saw Joanna approach the podium. Apparently, Joanna had on an 80's outfit with big shoulders that was made out of metallic material and Patti's first thought was, "The Tin Man stole my Tony!"
At "Seth's Broadway Chatterbox," I interviewed a great trio of comics: Sandra Bernhard, Scott Thompson and Lea DeLaria and, turns out, Joanna Gleason wasn't the only one talking about Beverly Hills last week; Sandra was a manicurist there in the late '70s! She recently had lunch with one of her clients in a posh NYC hotel, and her imitation of the woman complaining about how the hotel has changed was, of course, hilarious. I told Sandra how obsessed I am with the first track from her, Without You, I'm Nothing show where she plays a self-indulgent actress/cabaret singer. I love the section where she recalls being at a party where Sally Kellerman and Kenny Loggins are singing a medley from Porgy and Bess. She sees Andrea Marcoviccii weeping in a corner and, at first, assumes she's been moved by the music.
Scott Thompson talked about seeing "The Kids in the Hall" perform in Canada and deciding that he would somehow get in the group. He finally did and soon became the first out gay comic on TV...just like Lea DeLaria. That's right, that argument never quite seemed to be resolved during the interview. Regardless, after "The Kids in the Hall," Scott became very frustrated because, even though he had trained as a classical actor, he was only being sent in for the sassy gay sidekick. Or the supportive best friend, which he demonstrated by saying, "How could he not love you? You're fabulous!"
He got very frustrated/angry/bitter, which he thinks perhaps contributed to him getting cancer a few years ago. It took him a year to treat and a year to recover. But afterwards, he suddenly let go of his frustrations. He said he had a meeting with his agents where he told them that he wasn't going to focus solely on acting anymore...he could write, he could do stand-up and he could write graphic novels. He didn't seem to care as much anymore which he specifically related to his cancer. He said that the treatment had 32 side effects… 31 of them were awful, but one of them was that he no longer gave a sh*t. Of course, after he let go of trying to get an acting job that wasn't just the gay best friend, he got cast in a great role on TV's "Hannibal."
"The Chatterbox" with all three of them is on SethTV.com along with some hilarious episodes of Broadway Game Night. This Thursday I hightail it back to Provincetown for two shows with Sutton Foster at the Art House.
And finally, Unbroken Circle is going so well. After next week, we're adding performances so the show will play Wednesday matinee/night, Thursday night and Sunday matinee! We've gotten so many amazing reader reviews on NYTimes.com, and this was just in the Garden State Journal: "Unbroken Circle will manipulate all your emotions. Your hearty laughter will be short-circuited by an astonishing revelation, and conversely a chuckle will sidetrack your despair and sadness. You will leave the theatre in awe of the story, in love with the characters, and in reflection about your secrets and their ramifications."
And, PS, my delicious discount code is still in effect! Go to BroadwayOffers.com and type in UCSETH.
On that note, happy July and peace out!
(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)
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