Saturday, December 23, 2006

Grey Gardens, the musical. My review.

(I am working off my old laptop. Most of the keys stick and I can't download video because Sony's software won't load onto this thing since the CD burner is broken, but at least I can do email and other limited things. We're checking into various insurance possibilities to see if we can replace what was stolen. So, I'm here. Broken, but unbowed.

I had given this machine to a friend who really needed it to get back on his feet after some tragedies in his life so I felt like a heel asking for it back temporarily, but he understood.)

Our pal Michael Alden is producing the musical "Grey Gardens" on Broadway based upon the amazing and painful to watch documentary of the same name featuring two members of Jackie Kennedy's family, living in their old mansion in the Hamptons surrounded by 90 cats, living in squalor. If you haven't seen that docu, rent it.

The musical itself is nothing short of a spectacular work of art. This is truly what theatre writing is at its highest level. The convergence of book, music and lyrics is seamless and artful. It's "Old fashioned" only in the sense that it's carefully, meticulously crafted writing. But it's not a "hat and cane" show. It's dramatic, scary, hilarious, poignant and, then, sad as we watch a society mother and daughter fall apart into madness and ruin right before our eyes.

Christine Ebersole rightly gets the most attention for her scary-real portrayal of "Little Edie" but Mary Louise Wilson, as her needy, manipulative mother is right there matching her stride for stride. If these two don't win a pair of Tonys, there is simply no justice in the world. They lead you on a journey seriously fraught with danger and laughs around every turn; a roller coaster of possessiveness and loss. The aching "Around The World" is a tour de force of writing, and is a perfect marriage of singer and song.

Composer Scott Frankel's music along with Michael Korie's inventive, clarifying, tight lyrics intermix with Doug Wright's carefully crafted book in ways rarely seen these days in any musical. The rest of the cast, including our old friend, Bob Stillman as a fey pianist who clings to the family in act one, depending on mother Edith (also portrayed by Ebersole) for all his clothing and income, and who eggs her on to sing and then disrupt Little Edie's life, is spot on.

The show begins quickly in the present as we peer into their dilapidated home and Edith (Wilson) tries to sing an old song remembered from a party for Little Edie as she brings home her own Kennedy to marry (Matt Cavanaugh). We flash back to an elegant living room and our first image of Edith is that she's a classy society dame. What was amazing about the structure of the book was how we slowly see her fall from her perch. That she's an "actress" and "singer" who isn't good enough for the hoity toities of society.

And just as you start to feel sorry for her, you watch her destroy her daughter's life and pending romance slyly and viciously, setting us up for Act Two in which we see them years later, confined together in madness and fleas, cats and lost dreams.

I posted this before, but just in case you missed it, here is the amazing song "Around The World" from Act Two which I caught at the ASCAP function. It tells you everything you need to know about this polished, startling show. Bravo to all involved.


Anonymous said...

I'm so very sorry about the loss of your laptop, dear Steve. We are so sorry you had to borrow your old one back with it's sticky keys...but with it you can come back to the world of the living again.

Thanks too for giving us another look at that video. The madness just poured out until the video froze my browser. Maybe my computer knew I didn't need any madness today. Speaking of videos, I just enjoyed seeing you and Jim visiting the Hirchfield studio. Marvelous. :)

Merry Christmas to the two of you. Congratulations on your run in NY. :)

Anonymous said...

So, Mr. Performer, when you get to see an amazing show like the one you described, how does it influence YOUR acting? Do you spin off into how you might write your next one?

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around what your experience must be like right now (so obviously I'm enjoying your blog tremendously) as well as what it must be like to be surrounded by so much inspiration (as well as so much CITY, only been to NYC once).

And... while I'm writing to you, may I echo Mage's sentiments: Merry Christmas, Happy New Year! (lumps of coal for the laptop thief) ((although maybe wishing rehab on him/her might be more in ordrer))

Wait a minute. Come to think of it we should probably wish you something else, given the topic of your show and our similar experiences in the church. Let's institute a New Holiday, one that will disarm the commercialized Ho-Ho-Ho-ocity that has inundated us since (yes, really) September:

Merry Ethelmas!

I can just hear the carolers now! (sheesh you'd hear them 10 blocks away...)

hugs to both from both of us,