“Grey Gardens”

Walter Kerr Theatre, New York • 10 February 2007 • 2pm

Book by Doug Wright. Music by Scott Frankel. Lyrics by Michael Korie. Based on the documentary by the Maysles brothers. Directed by Michael Greif. With Christine Ebersole (Young Edith Bouvier Beale, Old “Little” Edie Beale), Mary Louise Wilson (Old Edith Bouvier Beale), Erin Davie (Young “Little” Edie Beale), John McMartin…

At last I got to see that show that I missed last time I came to New York because of a missed flight connection. Grey Gardens is based on the eponymous 1975 documentary about two relatives of Jacqueline Bouvier/Kennedy/Onassis, Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter “Little” Edie, who lived in filth and squalor in their run-down East Hampton mansion.

What the show adds is a first act about how “Little” Edie nearly got engaged to Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. before everything fell through. The second act is an almost exact reproduction of the documentary. If there were a Tony for mimicking a real-life character, then Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson would hold a strong claim to it. Their performances are indeed amazingly accurate. But, even if I mildly enjoyed the show, I couldn’t help wondering if there really was a point to all that — even if I can understand why the documentary is considered as such an endless source of fascination.

The show is well written, has a strong, witty book and a solid score. However, the music sounds a bit derivative and there are several instances where the composer seems to have wanted to make it unpredictable by inserting bizarre notes or harmonies in songs that would otherwise be perfectly “square.” To be fair, I had the same feeling upon leaving The Light in the Piazza and it took me a while to recognize that it made the score better, not lesser.

The cast is good, the staging is fine, the set is quite impressive… but I quite didn’t feel the thrill that I expected. Oh well.

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