Grey discusses memoir, life on stage and in Cleveland
By Amanda Koehn
Actor, writer and Cleveland native Joel Grey told 460 people at the Mandel JCC’s Cleveland Jewish Book Festival on Nov. 14 about growing up Jewish in Cleveland, his initiation into theater and lessons learned from a lifetime in acting.
Grey is best known for starring in Broadway musicals such as “Cabaret” and “Chicago.” He is also a singer, dancer, television actor and photographer. This past February, his memoir, “Master of Ceremonies,” was published.
During the keynote interview with Bob Abelman, arts critic for the Cleveland Jewish News, Grey discussed growing up in University Heights in the 1930s and ’40s and being “afraid of everything except acting.” He said he was most afraid of his mother’s erratic mood swings, anti-Semitism and being outed as gay, which he came out as in 2015.
“If you read the book, you know that there was a lot of adversity to come to where I am today. There was a lot of soul searching, and looking at life as it is and trying to look at the past fairly and truthfully and make some sense of why people do things, and why I do things,” Grey said.
Abelman asked Grey about overcoming a lack of confidence early in his career, to which he said, “success helps, and psychotherapy.”
“My passion for the art form of the theater has never left me. When I go to see anybody, I have that moment when the lights go down and I think, ‘I’m going to see something I’ve never seen before, or feel something I’ve never felt before,’” Grey said.
Grey frequently deviated from the question-and-answer format to break out in song and act out impressions of his father. Keeping in sync with Grey’s unstructured demeanor, given the chance to submit questions, at least two audience members wrote notes regarding family members who either knew or dated Grey during his teen years in Cleveland.
Although Grey said he anticipates acting again, he will likely never do another musical.
“It’s definitely a been there, done that, plus the preparation to do a musical is like being a crazy athlete, you give your life away in a way,” he said. “And I did it and I loved it and I had a lot of fun.”
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Nov. 16, 2016.
Lead image: Bob Abelman, left, arts critic for the Cleveland Jewish News, interviews Joel Grey, an actor, writer and Cleveland native. Photo | Amanda Koehn