grey gardens: the musical

I’ve written about the documentary “Grey Gardens” here before, and the fact that an off-Broadway musical based on the film was in the works. Well, it premiered the other night, and I’ve spent the past hour or so looking around the internet for word on how things went. (Don’t tell Linette, but I’m trying to figure out a way to get us tickets for when we’re in New York this spring — if it’s still playng.) So far, the best writeup I’ve been able to find has been this one from someone who posts under the name NYC Biscuit on The Velvet Rope. Here’s what he/she had to say:

I went Saturday night, just as the snow was beginning. Full house, and many women in revolutionary costumes. And I’d suspect that a majority of people were very familiar with the film, although there were also a handful of people like me who know the film so well we were laughing at lines before they could say them.

The first act takes place in 1941 or ’43, a mishmash of events under the guise of the afternoon prior to the announcement of Little Edie’s engagement to Joe Kennedy Jr., when we learn that she’s got quite the reputation, Gould is gay, and Phelan Beale sends a telegram announcing his Mexican divorce. The second act is straight out of the movie. MANY liberties were taken in the first act with actual facts (i.e. the Kennedy thing, Brooks Sr. as the butler), and some of the songs were useless to the production (a minstrel number called Hominy and Grits). The guy who plays both Joe Kennedy Jr./Jerry doesn’t do a very good Kennedy impression/accent, and I think that’s a must when doing a Kennedy. But why have Kennedy in there when they could have used someone that she was actually engaged to, like John Paul Getty, is beyond me. The Kennedy connection with Jackie and Lee Radziwell is apparent enough.

Speaking of liberties, then there’s Gould. In the play he’s g-g-g-gay, but I had always assumed from the film that he and Big Edie had a romantic relationship which was also cause for tension in the Beale house.

Christine Ebersole is SPOT ON as the older Little Edie. Wilson as Big Edie — ehh, not so much. Big Edie, ahem, never raised her voice; Wilson shreeks. There’s just something a little off. I think Jerry is much more sympathetic in the play, and it’s quite endearing. Very respectable that in a world where everyone else has forgotten and neglected the Edie’s, Jerry is there. Very touching.

It definitely needs some editing and tweeking. But I liked it a lot.

Next up, a viewing of the documentary with never-before-seen footage and a Q&A with David Maysels later this month. The 2-disc DVD comes out in May.

If you hear anything else about it, please leave a comment…. And, if you should come across photos of this audience full of women in their “revolutionary costumes,” by all means call and wake me up.

(Other reviews can be found here and here.)

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10 Comments

  1. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted February 14, 2006 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Someone desperately needs to make a “How to Make Revolutionary Costume” website with step-by-step instructions.

  2. Julie Morris-Condit
    Posted February 16, 2006 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    My brother rented this movie a couple months ago as a result of your original post. Tim and I suffered through the whole movie, whereas David didn’t last that long. It was an awful awful movie and it seemed not only POINTLESS, but like it was mocking the subjects who were completely unaware of their insanity. Tim and I sat through the movie because we were certain that at some point it would make some sort of statement. Didn’t get one and the movie ended abruptly. We give it 4 thumbs down, maybe more.

  3. mark
    Posted February 18, 2006 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I think you must have been watching a defective copy, Julie. Please go rent it from another store and watch it again.

  4. mark
    Posted February 18, 2006 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I received this note from a reader in New York named Chucka:

    I read the review you posted, I think it may be the only one so far to be written. Unfortunately I can not agree with much of what they said.

    There wasn’t anyone in the audience wearing a revolutionary costume. We thought it was long and slow and way too much singing. I think there were 24 songs, “jerry likes my corn” was the end for me. I also disagree with the reviewers opinion that the big eddie was not so good. It was down right spooky how both little and big eddie of the 70s were portrayed, you really could have thought they were the actual people. The accents, the costumes, the voices, it was uncanny.

    From what we overheard we had the guy who wrote the score as well as other show people behind us, they sure went into what seemed like panic mode at the end of the show. The whole thing really needs to be rewritten and better thought through. We got our tickets for $5 in a opening night lottery so I can’t say I wouldn’t have been more disappointed if I’d paid the $65 they usually are.

    I own the movie on dvd and have shown it to as many people as I can. I find you either can’t watch it or can’t watch it enough. Maybe the musical is something like that.

  5. It's Skinner Again
    Posted February 19, 2006 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t find the movie very interesting, either; I could never figure out why some of my friends liked it so much. I got very little out of watching two dull, mentally ill women hang around the house.

    The prospect of yet another musical recreating a movie is depressing. Why not just write a story with songs, rather than repackage and remarket pop culture from the past?

    Bah, humbug!

  6. mark
    Posted February 19, 2006 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    When I watch it, I don’t see two dull, mentally ill women just hanging around a house. I see a visionary artist tied down by history to the woman who gave birth to her. I see the candid story of a once-great American family in decline. I see the brilliant genesis, and promise, of reality television… I agree that we should, as a culture, put less emphasis on rehashing, but I do think that this film has merit and deserves a wider audience. My hope is that the musical might see that accomplished.

  7. mikeypod
    Posted March 5, 2006 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    I really hope to have a chance to see this, especially after your review!

  8. christopher
    Posted March 15, 2006 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    I was at the Saturday performance that Mark originally wrote about. My mother and her two friends were among those in full-on REVOLUTIONARY COSTUME. Perhaps their best efforts were paled by Ivey Long’s startling recreations, but they absolutely bore the head-wrap/brooch signature combo in respect.

    Honestly, I wanted to love the musical, and the intro when the audience catches a glimpse through the window of a whirling little Edie and her white pumps was the best part of this production. It said it all in nuance, with haunting, vivid refrence to the great documentary which I have loved now for a number of years.

    The second act is why we are all there, and Christine Ebersole serves it up like steaming boiled corn smothered in margarine. She brings out a softness in Little Edie that I have never really acknowledged. The other actors seemed to mimic real people, whereas Ebersole translates Little Edie without mockery or mimisis. As much as Mary Louise Wilson is delightfully close, Mother Darling (in this production) lacks the sparkle in her eye, like she’s thinking something terribly dirty. She too often warbles like a helpless old woman, ie. “I’m huuuuuungry!” Where did that come from?!

    Aside from the pointless hydraulic staircase, the great mistake in this production is the omission of what should have been the main scene: Big Edie’s Birthday Party. What I would have paid to watch Big Edie descend the staircase in her kimono worn in the first act, to her birthday party as the climax of this musical! Wasn’t this the motivation behind Little Edie’s big dance performace on the porch later the same day? Regardless, lovers are often the biggest critics, and as one who knows the documentary only too well, I take the greatest pleasure in knowing that Little Edie did make it to broadway, or off-broadway as it were, even if it is in a new incarnation.

  9. mark
    Posted March 16, 2006 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    OK, I’m calling for tickets… I wasn’t going to, but then I saw “hydraulic staircase.”

    Thank you for your review.

  10. It's Skinner Again
    Posted March 16, 2006 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    I had lunch on that block today. I can’t tell you anything about “Grey Gardens” (except that it’s gotten mixed reviews); but I can recommend that you avoid the “Pasta alla Teatro” at the Theater Row Diner.

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