The Transom popped into the Guggenheim on Monday night for a preview of Grey Gardens, the musical, with a book by Doug Wright–of I Am My Own Wife fame (undeserved, but don’t get us started on that again) –and music by the endearingly sexy Scott Frankel. (He can tinkle our ivories any time!)
For those who don’t know, the documentary records the squalid, unhinged, hilarious and sometimes sad life of a mother and daughter abandoned together in a mansion in Easthampton. Eight or so numbers from the show (including a number that was cut) were performed by the cast in the round ultra-mod theater in the Gugg’s basement. Christine Ebersole plays Big Edie in Act I, which takes place in the 40’s, and Little Edie in Act II, which is set in the 70’s, the same era in which the documentary Grey Gardens was shot by the Maysles brothers (et al).
Act I is sort of nice musical theatre; a girl is going to be married, her mother is a bit overbearing, she struggles with the contemporary role of a woman, and so on. Dancing! Patter! Etc.! And Sara Gettelfinger is pretty great as a young Little Edie.
But then, after the passing of 30-some years and an intermission, Ms. Ebersole reappears as the older Little Edie; the style of the music changes (revealing the traditional music of the first act to be an idiom within an idiom, or something like that), the house has fallen to bits, and the cats and raccoons have taken over the mansion.
And when Ms. Ebersole appeared on stage in the revolutionary costume of film fame, the audience–about 50% of whom had seen the original documentary–gasped. She produced what is possibly the single eeriest and most precise embodiment of a non-fictional character one could ever hope to see. It’s unbelievable. She sang two numbers from Act II and brought the house down.
All of this blah blah prologue is formulated entirely to make a record of our prediction. Christine Ebersole will win an Obie and an Outer Critics Circle and a Tony (after the inevitable move to Broadway) and a Who Knows What for her performance. Hell, maybe a Nobel Prize.
This ends our report from theatre-land; we promise we won’t go back for a while. Anyway, Grey Gardens opens in February at Playwrights Horizons.