What Rhymes With Ramshackle? Grey Gardens Musical Opens

News   What Rhymes With Ramshackle? Grey Gardens Musical Opens
 
The Playwrights Horizons world premiere, Grey Gardens, the new musical about decaying socialites who live in the ruins of a Long Island mansion, opens Off-Broadway March 7.

Christine Ebersole and Bob Stillman in Grey Gardens.
Christine Ebersole and Bob Stillman in Grey Gardens. Photo by Joan Marcus

Drawn from the cult film of the same name, the musical by librettist Doug Wright, composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie sold out its initial run to March 26, and was extended to April 9.

During previews, since Feb. 10, Grey Gardens was announced as the winner of a 2006 Richard Rodgers Production Award — one of three shows to win 2006 awards, and the only one that has so far had a production.

Director Michael Greif (Rent) has been pruning and fertilizing the production during previews on the Mainstage Theater at PH on West 42nd Street.

Fans of the 1975 documentary have come to the production in previews and expressed awe at the uncanny resemblance that stars Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson have to the broken-down subjects of the picture — Edie Beale and Edith Bouvier Beale, respectively.

According to Playwrights Horizons, "Grey Gardens concerns the deliciously eccentric aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who were once among the brightest names in the pre-Camelot social register, and are now East Hampton's most notorious recluses, living in a dilapidated 28-room mansion. Facing an uncertain future, Edith Bouvier Beale and her adult daughter, 'Little' Edie, are forced to revisit their storied past and come to terms with it — for better, and for worse." If critics take a shine to the show, expect it to have a commercial future.

The new musical covers about 30 years, from a life-changing day in 1941 (when Little Edie's relationship with young Joe Kennedy fell apart, and Edith's marriage to Mr. Beale hit the rocks) to 1973 (when mother and daughter are cooking food over a hotplate at their bedside and listening to raccoons nibble at the frame of the house).

"The events of the play," reads a Playbill note for the musical, "are based on both fact and fiction."

The documentary that inspired both projects sticks within the house and grounds of the shambles itself, when the gardens have gone to seed and the house is in disrepair. The film remains a creepy document of mental, physical and social decline.

For the musical, librettist Doug Wright borrows lines from the documentary to pepper an imagined Act One that has the whiff of Cole Porter's "High Society" to it. Act Two is set in the crumbling East Hampton home and more closely follows the documentary (including the more memorable lines from the ladies), spiked with songs, such as Frankel and Korie's haunting "Another Winter in a Summer Town."

Christine Ebersole plays two roles in the show: matron Edith in 1941 (Act One) and her middle-aged daughter, Edie, in 1973 (Act Two). Mary Louise Wilson is the Medusa-like visage of Edith in old age in 1973 in Act Two. Sarah Gettelfinger plays the vibrant young Edie in 1941. Sarah Hyland plays young Jackie Bouvier. John McMartin is J.V. "Major" Bouvier, Edith's father.

The cult movie, now on DVD with added special features, is a portrait of physical and mental decay that has fascinated viewers (and inspired some artists and designers) for 30 years. The picture is by David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer & Susan Froemke.

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The gates of Gardens seemed golden before the first preview dawned: Not only does the cult-hit documentary film on which this world premiere musical is based have a wide fan base (particularly in the New York area) and a disturbing and fascinating subject, but the librettist, Doug Wright, won the Pulitzer Prize for I Am My Own Wife — the solo play which premiered at Playwrights before moving to Broadway glory.

Matt Cavenaugh (as Joe Kennedy and local handyman Jerry), Michael Potts (as Brooks and Brooks, Jr., two generations of servants on the property), Bob Stillman (as Gould, the dissipated gay pianist companion to Mrs. Beale) and Audrey Twitchell (as Lee Bouvier) are also featured.

Wright also penned the play Quills and the screenplay for its film version. Composer Frankel was musical director for Broadway's Falsettos and Putting It Together and lyricist Michael Korie co-wrote the opera Harvey Milk and lyrics for the Broadway-aimed Lucy Simon musical Zhivago. (The daring and crafty Korie rhymes "Kennedy" and "threnody" at one moment in the show.)

Ebersole is a Tony Award winner for the revival of 42nd Street; Wilson was a Tony nominee for Cabaret and appeared in Off-Broadway's Full Gallop; Gettelfinger created the role of Jolene, the Oklahoma heiress in Broadway's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and appeared in Nine.

The production features scenic design by Allen Moyer, costume design by five-time Tony Award winner William Ivey Long, lighting design by Tony Award winner Peter Kaczorowski, sound design by Brian Ronan and projections by Wendall K. Harrington. Orchestrations are by Tony Award winner Bruce Coughlin and music director will be Lawrence Yurman.

Grey Gardens is presented by special arrangement with Nathan Riley.

Jeff Calhoun (Big River, Grease!) handles the musical staging.

For ticket information, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or visit www.playwrighthorizons.org.

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The list of musical numbers in the Playbill includes (for Act One) "The Five-Fifteen," "Body Beautiful Beale," "Mother, Darling," "Better Fall Out of Love," "Being Bouvier," "Hominy Grits," "Peas in a Pod," "Drift Away," "The Five Fifteen" (reprise), "Tomorrow's Woman," "Daddy's Girl," "The Telegram," "Being Bouvier" (reprise), "Will You?," and (for Act Two) "The Revolutionary Costume for Today," "The Cake I Had," "Entering Grey Gardens," "The House We Live In," "Jerry Likes My Corn," "Around the World," "Will You?" (reprise), "Choose To Be Happy," "Around the World" (reprise), "Another Winter in a Summer Town" and "Peas in a Pod" (reprise).

Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson in <i>Grey Gardens</i>.
Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson in Grey Gardens. Photo by Joan Marcus
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