Reviewed by Judy Richter
Reports that Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis' eccentric aunt and cousin were impoverished and living in squalor with raccoons and dozens of cats in a decaying 28-room mansion, called Grey Gardens, caused quite a stir in 1971-72. Their situation also resulted in a documentary film, "Grey Gardens," created by David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Mayer and Susan Froemke. That film, in turn, spawned a 2006 musical of the same name written by Doug Wright with music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie. Winner of three Tony Awards, it's being presented by TheatreWorks in its first post-Broadway production. Kent Nicholson directs.
The musical's creators took much of their second act from the film, but the first act is a re-imagining of what transpired in July 1941 in the East Hampton mansion on Long Island. In that act, 24-year-old Edie Beale (Elisa Van Duyne) is looking forward to a party later that day to announce her engagement to Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr. (Nicholas Galbraith). One of her biggest concerns is that her domineering mother, Edith Bouvier Beale (Beth Glover), an aspiring singer, will steal the spotlight by singing. Mother does worse than that, however. She casually tells Joe some stories about Edie that send the young man out the door. In the meantime, she gets word from her philandering husband that he has gone to Mexico with his girlfriend to get a quickie divorce.
This first act, despite its apparent adherence to musical theater conventions, is curiously flat, moving in fits and starts. Part of the problem may be the diction, especially with the New York and Boston accents. Another may be that the songs tend to sound alike. And still another may be the casting, especially Galbraith, whose Joe lacks the charisma associated with his three younger brothers, John, Robert and Ted. Glover's singing seems strained, something like a church soprano, but the second act -- in which she plays the younger Edie -- shows her to be a much better than that, so she apparently was revealing the mother's limited talent.
The Act 1 cast is completed by Michael Winther as George Gould Strong, Edith's homosexual, alcoholic accompanist and longtime friend; Paul Myrvold as her blustering father, J.V. "Major" Bouvier; Anthony J. Haney as Brooks Sr., the family's discreet butler; and two girls -- Kathryn Foley and Carolyn Di Loreto (alternating with Isabella Wilcox) as Edie's young cousins, Jackie and Lee Bouvier (whose married name was Radziwell), respectively.
In Act 2, as mentioned, Glover plays "Little" Edie, the daughter, while Dale Soules, who understudied the role on Broadway, plays the needy, manipulative, bedridden mother, Edith. Galbraith becomes Jerry, a taciturn but kindly local teenager who befriends the two; and Haney becomes Brooks Jr., the gardener. The other performers play a variety of imagined roles in ensemble. Set in 1973, this act is a little more interesting, especially because of Soules' performance. Still, it's not particularly engaging. It doesn't go anywhere because mother and daughter don't evolve. Instead they remain mired in their mutually dependent, love-hate relationship that's more than a little neurotic. The music seems derivative of Stephen Sondheim without its brilliance. In addition to scenic designer J.B. Wilson, who recreates the mansion's before and after so well, the artistic team includes costume designer Cathleen Edwards, lighting designer Pamila Gray and sound designer Cliff Caruthers. William Liberatore directs the nine-person orchestra. The minimal choreography is by Alex Perez.
Even though "Grey Gardens" earned plaudits on Broadway and even though it has the Kennedy connection, it's definitely not to everyone's taste.