by Rita Charleston
She knew she could sing. In fact, growing up she did a lot of singing in various choirs and in high school musicals. But Mt. Airy’s Grace Gonglewski never thought of herself as a singer. Her professional credits showed her to be much more of a straight actress than a singer. So imagine her hesitation, even fear, when a possible role for her came up in Stephen Sondheim’s classic “A Little Night Music.” The Arden Theatre Company was planning to present the Tony Award-wining show as its 11th production of a Sondheim work, and proposed the role of Desiree to Gonglewski.
Well, it finally all turned out just fine, and the show is now being presented at the Arden through June 30. But Gonglewski, 49, said it took a great deal of work on everyone’s part to make it happen for her. “The hardest part of all for me was getting over the fact that I’m not a singer. When I heard the other cast members sing, it dawned on me that I was definitely not a singer.”
So in order to get Gonglewski over her fear, the Arden paid for her voice lessons. “I feel honored that they wanted me and went to all that trouble. But after studying the script, I realized the role was very much written for an actress. If she could sing, fine. But first and foremost Desiree is an actress.”
And there’s no denying Gonglewski is definitely that. Over the years she‘s appeared in several dozen productions at the Arden. She‘s also appeared in many other local and regional productions. She’s also amassed four Barrymore Awards, the F. Otto Haas Award, the Dorothy Haas Fellowship and more.
With her many roles, she admittedly has favorites. “And Desiree is one of them. She is a self-absorbed, once-successful actress who is now touring the country in what is clearly not the glamorous life. She is the daughter of a wealthy courtesan who raised her to think of sex to be used in order to be taken care of in life. But because she has fallen in love, she fails at that.”
Written by Sondheim in 1973, the score of “A Little Night Music” is set entirely as a waltz in ¾ time. It features one of Sondheim’s most well-known songs, “Send in the Clowns,” and Gonglewski is lucky enough to get to sing it, making it another reason for this to be one of her favorite roles in a favorite show.
But today, she admits she loves all the roles she’s done, and hopefully will be doing in the future. She said, “Growing up I had a dream, and that was to become an actress. I used to tell my mother that when I grew up I wanted to be a star, although I didn’t fully understand how to make that happen — until the day I visited my sister, who was attending Penn State.”
With time on her hands, Gonglewski decided to visit a small theater on campus and watched a production of “The Good Doctor” by Neil Simon. She remembers that the girl in the play spoke about wanting to be an actress, those words really hit home.
“I remember I cried,” she recalled, “and vowed from that point on that acting was exactly what I wanted to do, too. That was my moment of truth, and I eventually headed off to North Carolina School of the Arts to get my basic training and my degree.”
And it’s obviously all paid off for Gonglewski who, when not appearing on stage, can be heard doing voice-over work or teaching audition technique classes at Arcadia University. “I tell my students to question authority and trust yourself. After all, you are doing this for yourself because you must. I think it’s also important to realize that you don’t choose acting. It chooses you. But if you don’t have the tenacity, talent, hard work and perseverance that is necessary to compete in this business, then look for something else.”
For times and ticket information to “A Little Night Music,” call 215-922-1122.
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