The show has made Christine Ebersole — who plays eccentric East Hampton doyenne "Big Edie" Beale in the 1940s-set first act and even-more-eccentric shut-in "Little Edie" Beale in the 1970s-set second act — a musical theatre immortal. It won Mary Louise Wilson a Tony Award. And it has established Scott Frankel and Michael Korie as Broadway composers. But the show has probably meant the most, career-wise, to Erin Davie, who plays Little Edie in the first act. Davie was not part of the Off-Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons, but was plucked from obscurity to play alongside Ebersole in the Broadway berth. The Boston Conservatory grad won a Theatre World Award for her work. As Grey Gardens counts down it final days on stage (it closes July 29 at the Walter Kerr Theatre), Davie shared her thoughts about her Broadway debut with Playbill.com.
Playbill.com: Grey Gardens is your Broadway debut. Was the experience what you expected or surprising in some way?
Erin Davie: Wow. I'm sure it was a little bit of both. It was surprising every day, in that I was constantly pinching myself that I was really living my dream. And getting to meet all the people that I had only read about previously, it was very exciting. All of a sudden, you're working among them, rather than looking up to them. That's the best part, I think. Liza came to the show. Norbert Leo Butz. All of these people I had seen on stage. Meeting Christine [Ebersole] was exciting for me. I could watch her every night. I have one of the best seats in the house.
Playbill.com: During the second act, when you're not on stage as much, do you spend a lot of time in the wings watching her?
ED: You know, I didn't for a good part of the beginning of the run, because I didn't realize that there was a spot to see from. The way the set is set up, there really is not a lot of opportunity to see what is going on onstage. I actually did realize a couple months ago that if I went to stage right I could see through a crack. I did that a couple times. I'd watch the beginning of Act Two, so that I could watch Christine.
Playbill.com: When you were first cast for the Broadway production, a lot of people commented on your physical resemblance to Christine Ebersole. Do you see that in yourself?
ED: Yeah, I do. I see it. And also, it's very flattering, because I think she's gorgeous. Of course, there are differences. But I can see it. We have similar eyes, similar coloring. And I did try to emulate what she was bringing to the stage, and over time it got stronger and stronger.
Playbill.com: You mean you tried to play a more youthful version of "Little Edie" Beale, the character Ebersole plays in the second act?
ED: Right. Exactly. I was trying to pick up physicalities and vocal things that I could use in the first act, but nothing that would make the character too eccentric or too "Little Edie"-from-the-second-act. Playbill.com: Can you give me a specific example of something you picked up from Ebersole's performance?
ED: I still pick up things. It's amazing. I get to watch her sing "Another Winter in a Summer Town" every evening because I am waiting to enter the stage at that time. The way she touches her face when she says "A middle-aged woman inhabiting me" — I started to use that in the scene in the first act when Joe Kennedy has just left and I go sit on the couch and have a semi-breakdown. I don't know if the audience would even realize or notice that we touch our faces in a similar way. But hopefully it will make the show more fluid and make me more believable as her at a young age.
Playbill.com: Had you ever seen Christine Ebersole perform before this?
ED: I hadn't. I went to see 42nd Street, but I saw her understudy. Beth Leavel was her understudy. But I knew of her and I had heard her [on recordings]. But not until I played the Grey Gardens CD did I think, "She's amazing. Her voice is amazing."
Playbill.com: How did you get the part? What was the audition process like?
ED: Wow. The audition process was very exciting. I went in for the part of the understudy. I thought I was going to get a callback, but I didn't hear. The next day, I got a call from [casting director Bernie] Telsey's office saying, "Where are you?" There had been some miscommunication and I wasn't told of the callback, and so I missed it. They said, "I'm sorry. We really have to make the decisions today." So, I thought that was it. I was really crushed. I was at my temp job at the time, of course. Later that day, I got a call from Telsey's office saying, and I quote, "By the grace of God, you have a second chance." They said come back in two weeks. I thought I was still going in for the understudy. Two weeks later I went in. I was there at the end of the day with two other girls. I got a call at the end of the day that I actually got the role.
Playbill.com: Have you been in every performance of the Broadway run?
ED: I have. But I actually asked for two days off in July.
Playbill.com: So your streak will be broken before the show closes.
ED: I would love a break. I wanted to go home. If I were my understudy, I would be dying to go onstage. I would want someone to do that for me.