Can you honestly tell me that a musical called Grey Gardens doesn’t have at least a few problems when it takes an Act and a half to get to a song called Entering Grey Gardens?
When I first heard that the 1975 documentary about a mother and daughter in decline was to be made into a musical, I was intrigued and a little fearful. Thankfully, Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson put my fears to rest by bringing the raw pain, frailty, humour and resolve that these larger than life characters demanded.
Paired with a few awkward bits of staging and a secondary cast that was pedigreed but unremarkable, a certain number of unnecessary songs threatened to send the whole production into disrepair. On more than one occasion, a truly powerful and poignant moment ended up feeling diluted by a song that seemed to just be taking up space rather than being essential.
Try and remember -- when you’re folding an entire audience into smallish theatre seats for more than 2 ½ hours, the way to keep things moving is to find great ways to get your point across, not to just write another song. I spied Joel Grey in the audience and for one night only, I envied him his little legs.
The heartbroken but still poised and pretty Edie of Act 1 in no way resembled the Edie who emerged in Act 2 which didn't matter until after the fact when you had time to think about it. Several years had passed during intermission and when we rejoined the madness in progress, she was possessed of an entirely different speech pattern and her eccentricities were in full control, a stunning transformation on Christine Ebersole's part. As soon as she stepped on stage, it was impossible to take your eyes off of her. It was a perfect performance and she inhabited the songs like they were a part of her soul. As Big Edie, Mary Louise Wilson was no less astonishing as she got you to laugh, cringe, and question without seeming false for a moment. Together, they took the show well past its flaws with their remarkable achievements.
Get ready for awards night ladies!
My overall rating? Seven raccoons in the attic.