Directors David Maysles and Albert Maysles' 1976 film documentary Grey Gardens examined the squalid lives of Edith Bouvier Beale, then in her late seventies, and her daughter, "Little" Edie Beale, then in her mid-fifties, as the two lived together in a decaying mansion on Long Island. The Beales were, respectively, an aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and had lived lives of wealth and high society before descending into a reclusive existence. The musical adaptation of Grey Gardens, with a libretto by Doug Wright and songs by composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie, spends only its second act in the 1970s, after a first act set in 1941 that compresses the crises of the Beales' lives (the mother's breakup with her husband, the daughter's breakup with her fiancé, Joseph Kennedy, Jr.) into a single afternoon. The use of the two time periods allows Frankel and Korie to write two different styles of songs. In their telling, the mother is a singer planning a concert at her daughter's engagement party, and so they write a group of pastiche songs that sound like they come from the interwar period, heavily influenced by Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern. Then, when they switch to the 1970s, their songs are imbued with the minor-key melodies and sharp lyrical edges of Stephen Sondheim. Both styles are well executed musically, although Korie might have done more historical research to get the anachronisms out of his words. (One example: in 1941, Edie says to Edith that "Peas in a Pod" is "the very first song you ever taught me," which should place it back in the 1920s, but the lyrics contain a reference to the cinematic comedy team of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, which did not come into existence until 1940.) Best of all is the casting of Christine Ebersole, who plays the mother in the first act and the daughter in the second, although the lesser parts played by Mary Louise Wilson (as the mother in the second act) and John McMartin (as Edith's father and Edie's grandfather) are also expertly acted. When Grey Gardens opened at the Playwrights Horizons theater company in New York City on March 7, 2006, it was hailed by many as the best off-Broadway musical of the 2005-2006 season, and a transfer to Broadway was arranged for the fall. The cast recording, released during the summer, tended to confirm the judgment of the theater critics, indicating that it would be the show to beat as the best Broadway musical production of the 2006-2007 season.
Grey Gardens [Original Off-Broadway Cast] Review
by William Ruhlmann
|Grey Gardens, musical play|