Grey Gardens: The Musical

Last night we saw Grey Gardens, the new musical based on the classic 1975 documentary, and loved it. If this were on Broadway instead of at Playwrights Horizons, Christine Ebersole would be a lock for the Tony.

Matt had the good idea of renting the documentary last week. Neither of us had seen it before (actually, I saw the first 15 minutes at a friend’s place last year, but that was it), and, after a while, I totally got into it. The story of a nutty elderly woman and her nutty middle-aged daughter stuck living together in a creepily co-dependent relationship totally reminded me of my maternal grandmother and my mom’s sister, who lived together for a long time as adults in an absurdly messy house. The movie is simultaneously entertaining and haunting. And it enhanced the musical experience, because we were able to catch many references to the film, some of them subtle.

The musical is unconventional, but it mostly works. The writers constructed the first act out of whole cloth: it takes place in 1941, thirty years before the events captured in the documentary, and the songs are mostly 1940s pastiche. The act goes on a bit too long and there are too many diegetic songs, but the foreshadowing of future events is eerie at times. The second act, more experimental, is a largely musicalized version of the documentary; thirty years have passed and everything has fallen apart. I think Sara Gettelfinger, who plays the daughter, Little Edie, in the first half, was miscast; she seems too sane to turn into the loopy 1975 version of Little Edie, played by Christine Ebersole. And I wasn’t totally convinced by Matt Cavenaugh as Joe Kennedy, Jr. in the first half and as Jerry, the teenage “Marble Faun,” in the second half. But Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson were fantastic, and they totally make the show.

It’s only running for another month, so if you want to see it, get tickets now.