Saturday, October 21, 2006


I'd be remiss if I didn't say a few words about Grey Gardens, now in previews after its wildly successful off-Broadway run. Wildly successful, if you ask me, less on account of its overall shallowly fanciful, occasionally inspired score than the jaw-dropping performances of its two leads.

Yes, I had doubts when I heard they were making a musical of Grey Gardens. Actually, that's not right. Doubts imply mixed feelings. I just thought it was the worst idea I'd ever heard. I began to imagine musical numbers with chorus lines of big dancing racoons waving slices of white bread, and wake up screaming. Because really the choices seemed to be either: go for broke/insane; or just lift the entire text, for lack of better term, from the movie and through-compose it into a nightmarish epic.

Well, the creators had an idea I had not, which is why they're writing musicals and I'm typing whatI think of them for an audience of seven. They filled in the backstory, much alluded to in the film, giving Christine Ebersole a chance to pull of one of those Broadway coups everyone likes, playing first Big Edie in the 40's and then Little Edie to the B.E. of Mary Louise Wilson in 1973.

You know, the first time I saw the film Grey Gardens, I was so bored I couldn't make it through. It's certainly grown on me, though I'm not a full-fledge fanatic. But yeah, I get that they're utterly fascinating personalities...Little Edie famously notes how hard it's getting to drawn the line between the past and the future, all the while straddling the line between batshit crazy and eccentric in a way I'm not sure society allows anymore.

Through vocal mimicry of the most modulated, lived-in sort and a kind of physicality most opera singers never learn, Ms. Ebersole and Ms. Wilson channel exactly that quality, and it's tremendous theater. The supporting cast is quite capable in roles that feel a bit half-imagined, maybe 3/4, best of all/most of all Bob Stillman as Big Edie's accompanist/royal subject of fag haggery George Gould Strong. The role is a throwback, not in a good way--it features (but seriously) a joke where Big Edie says she's been looking for flowers for a party but there's not a single Pansy from here to East Hampton or something. I'll let you fill in the punchline. But Stillman makes much of little.

This Rigoletto on Sirius, by the by, is pretty wonderful. Tucker in nice form, Gueden, Warren, and my peculiar fixation, Jean Madiera. Hopefully they'll replay it and you can listen if you're a subscriber and fond of Verdi. I don't make any money from them, honest, I am just enjoying the fuck out of the broadcasts. Hurrah! Um, so anyway...

The songs, save for two melancholic little gems to close each act, are not awful. They're just not special. They suffer in comparison, say, to the deft, deadpan wonderfulness of the writing in The Drowsy Chaperone. The songs from Grey Gardens are 90% less likely to get enjoyably lodged in your cranium. And one or two, like the "Jerry Likes My Corn" number are pretty perplexing. Still, if I were you [and, consequently, not sitting here typing out this duller than dishwater review] I'd at least consider going, and make sure to dream up the right costume for the day.

1 comment:

Chalkenteros said...

I caught some of that Rigoletto this afternoon as well. The act 3 father/daughter duet was great. The immediacy and clarity of G├╝den's voice was kind of shocking.