By Greg Hernandez
The deaths of her parents less than four months apart in 2017 led Joanna Gleason to create the deeply personal musical journey Out of the Eclipse.
And the Tony Award-winning star is bringing the show to the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Renberg Theater on February 15 and 16.
“I kind of went into a very dark place even though they were very old—and I’m not young,” Gleason shares with LGBT News Now. “With the world feeling so shaky anyway, losing them caused me to lose my balance. I really couldn’t find which way was up.”
Many people may not know that she is the daughter of iconic television personality Monty Hall, who hosted the classic game show Let’s Make a Deal in various incarnations from 1963–1991, and Emmy Award-winning producer Marilyn Hall.
“I needed to tell this story of what I learned about my parents after they died, what I was able to really see about them and their extraordinary story,” Gleason says. “It’s a very funny piece, but it’s also kind of raw at times because it’s about what I went through. It goes dark places, it goes bright places. It just keeps moving, and I’m really proud of this show.”
“I’m insanely proud of my parents”
The theatrical memoir of storytelling and song is written and directed by Gleason.
“I wrote a play is what I did, and the offstage characters are people you can identify with,” she explains. “I’m certainly not hiding the fact that it’s Dad. I just don’t lead with that nor do I push that in the show at all. I’m insanely proud of my parents. But I realized if I talked about them by name as I share these funny anecdotes about their lives, then it’s a memorial, and you picture my dad the whole time when you should be picturing the people in your life.”
For those not familiar with her work on stage, Gleason is quite recognizable from movies and television. She was the therapist who helped Miranda and Steve find their way back to each other in the first Sex and the City movie; was Mark Wahlberg’s mother in Boogie Nights; and also had roles in Hannah and Her Sistersand in Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Her television roles include playing Bette Midler’s best friend in the 2000–01 sitcom Bette and multiple episodes of Friends, The West Wing, The Good Wife, and ER.
But Gleason’s greatest success has been on Broadway where her performance as Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods won her the Tony Award in 1988 for Lead Actress in a Musical.
“It was surreal,” she says of her Tony win. “There’s a video of me when my name was called, and I throw my head back so hard. For the next two weeks, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t turn my head left or right.”
“Theater has been a big chunk of my life”
Gleason was also Tony nominated in 1985 for the play Joe Egg and in 2005 for the musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Her other Broadway credits include Social Security (Drama Desk Award), The Real Thing, I Love My Wife (Theater World Award), and It’s Only a Play (Drama Desk Award).
“Theater has been a big chunk of my life and nothing really compares with that,” she says. “On a TV show, you rehearse it for a couple of days, you do it and you go home. Different episodes, different stories. Same with film. You’re sitting in a trailer for nine hours and then you do a scene for a half hour. I worked with a lot of amazing people but for me it was never very satisfying.”
Out of the Eclipse, however, has been very satisfying.
“I get to use my life, I get to use the music I want to sing, and I get to tell the story I need to tell,” she says. “It’s not a strict cabaret show where I sit and sing a whole bunch of songs and weave them together. It’s really a theater piece.”
The show initially had two runs at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York City in 2019 then played in the theater at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts in Fairfield, Connecticut, where Gleason lives with her husband, the Oscar-nominated actor Chris Sarandon.
After a show at 54 Below one night, four brawny men visiting from Texas came up to and introduced themselves to Gleason.
“They had just gotten into town and wanted to see what a New York nightclub was going to be like,” she recalls. “They didn’t know me, and they didn’t know what they were in for. But two of them were crying, and one of them held me and wouldn’t let go. They had been the biggest laughers in the room. It was a very sweet moment.”
“The response at the end of the shows has been kind of overwhelming to me,” she adds. “Nobody wanted to go home. They were sitting among strangers, and everybody’s talking. Old people, young people. There’s a lot of laughing, a lot that is funny. But there is also a lot that sneaks up on people and is really quite moving.”
The musical director for Out of the Eclipse is Jeffrey Klitz and Gleason is accompanied by the Moontones: Michael Protacio, Christine Cornell, and Christiana Cole (vocals), Jeffrey Klitz (piano), Katherine Springarn (cello), Justin Rothberg (stringed instruments), and Shane Del Robles (percussion).
Joanna Gleason: Out of the Eclipse
Saturday, February 15, 8 p.m.
Sunday, February 16, 7 p.m.
General Admission: $35. Buy tickets at lalgbtcenter.org/theatre or call the box office at 323-860-7300.