Musical Moments--Grey GardensSince seeing Grey Gardens last week I can't get the show out of my head. The tunes linger, the characters haunt, and the performances live on as some of the best I've seen on Broadway in recent memory. So I thought I'd follow up my last post by spotlighting a couple of the musical numbers from the show with one of my Musical Moments posts.
Grey Gardens is performed in two acts and tells the story of the two Edith Bouvier Beales, a mother and daughter known as "Big" Edie and "Little" Edie, who were also the aunt and first cousin to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. The first act takes place during the summer of 1941 at the Beale's East Hampton estate, Grey Gardens, on the day that Little Edie's engagement to Joe Kennedy Jr. is to be announced. The action revolves around the high society preparations for the engagement party and sets up the complex relationships of not only mother and daughter, but the entire family as well. By the end of the first act, Big Edie's controlling, competitive nature has sabotaged her daughter's engagement just as her own marriage is falling apart. The act closes as Mrs. Beale goes out to the garden where dozens of her guests are awaiting the news of Little Edie's engagement, but instead, Joe Jr has called the wedding off, little Edie has run away and Big Edie's husband, Mr. Beale, has sent word that he's off to Mexico for a quickie divorce.
Follow this link to watch how Big Edie faces her guests as she sings "Will You," one of the musical numbers she has planned for the party. She struggles to maintain a brave face while inside her world is crumbling. Christine Embersole's performance of the song is heartbreaking and the lush melody is reminiscent of a Jerome Kern classic. (Sorry for not embedding, that feature was disabled for this clip on YouTube.)
The second act takes place some 32 years later after Grey Gardens has fallen into disrepair and Big and Little Edie, who still live there, have become a couple of recluse eccentrics, their co-dependant relationship seeming to imprison them there. This is the portion of the play that is based on the Maysle's 1975 documentary. The part of Little Edie in the second act is played by the same actress who plays Big Edie in the first act, in this case Christine Ebersole, symbolizing the inner conflict between mother and daughter in both characters. We meet Little Edie at the top of the second act not as the well-bred debutante we knew in the first act, but rather, as an odd, middle aged character with a bizarre sense of style who has a penchant for headdresses and mismatched outfits. We learn that she follows astrology devoutly and cares for some 50 stray cats and raccoons that live in her house. Needless to say, Little Edie is somewhat out of step with the staid community of East Hampton and in the opening of the second act she states her unique philosophy on fashion and conformity in "The Revolutionary Costume for Today." (See the clip below.)
This number was followed with at least five minutes of applause the night I saw the show and speaks to Ms. Ebersole's range as an actress. She so truly and fully inhabits both of her characters in this show, it's hard to believe at times that it's the same actress playing both roles. Enjoy.