"One Rap for Yes…Two Raps For No"

We were there for opening night, we were there for Tony Tuesday so it was inevitable that we would be there for the final performance of Blithe Spirit (some of us went much more often than that). For the record, today marked my fourth and final trip to the Condomine residence.

However, the day got started at Thalia’s for some bloggers who brunch action. Steve and Doug, Esther, Chris, Sarah, Kari, Roxie, Jimmy, Alicia and myself gathered for the usual conversation over breakfast concoctions (make mine a mimosa any day). Even with the pleasure of reading everyone’s blogs, writing on someone’s Facebook wall or communicating via twitter, nothing beats gathering together at a table in a swank NY restaurant for the real thing.

Sarah, Kari, Roxie, Noah and I headed over to the Shubert for a sold-out matinee that featured yet another fizzy champagne afternoon. The crowd was electric, very much into the play and appreciative of the comedy. Some of the lines were rushed/dropped, but that didn’t hinder any of the enjoyment. Rupert Everett and Christine Ebersole were still problematic in their characterizations, but not so much to hinder from the experience. Susan Louise O’Connor is a star on the rise. Simon Jones and Deborah Rush gave the Bradman’s their final exercise in skepticism. Of course there was that devil-may-care Tony-winning performance of Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati, a pro among pros who (if the rumors are true about her involvement in A Little Night Music in the fall) is certainly enjoying a late-career renaissance on Broadway, and deservedly so.

My admiration today, though, is reserved for Jayne Atkinson. Atkinson took the role of waspy Ruth, a stark contrast to the ethereal and immoral Elvira, and turned it into something extraordinary. Ruth usually provides a great comic angle, but mostly as a straight man to the lunacy and farce going on around her. To put it frankly, she’s rather bland on paper. Atkinson, though, created an indelible leading lady performance that was one of the most underrated treasures of the theatre season.

Today, especially, Atkinson’s Ruth seemed to shine ever-so-brightly. Finding even in the final performance truthful comedy that none of us had ever seen before (a riotous parody of Madame Arcati’s earlier trance dance). Droll, clipped, with some of the best listening and reacting I’ve ever seen in a comedy, she was nothing short of effervescent. For my money, she deserved a Best Actress in a Play nomination. But I do look forward to seeing what she does next. If she’s onstage in NY, you know we’ll be there.

After the show, the cast received flowers and continued to bow as the curtain came down and the house lights went up. And predictably enough, we went to Angus for post-show dinner and drinks, continuing to enjoy ourselves immensely on what was a most beautiful day in the city.

Third Time’s as Charming as Ever

Most of you know already know how I feel about the magnificent revival of Blithe Spirit, so I’ll keep this one brief. I had the unexpected pleasure of going back to see the show a third time this evening. Even though I saw it a mere two weeks ago, it’s still hilarious and doesn’t lose any of its magic on return visits. The house was mostly full with an eager and appreciative crowd. Personal favorite Jayne Atkinson got entrance applause at the very top of the play and we were off. The pacing and performances are tighter and funnier; Blithe Spirit is the Dom Perignon of this season’s revivals.

The cast is uniformly excellent; I’m even warming up to Ebersole’s rather kooky interpretation of Elvira. Everett postures but is still good with a droll line reading. Simon Jones and Deborah Rush make great impressions in their limited stage time. The aforementioned Atkinson should be featured in a show every season, as far as this humble fan is concerned. And of course, Angela Lansbury continues to be the Belle of the Ball as Madame Arcati, with an especially feisty performance tonight. Her relationship toward the Bradmans has grown consistently edgier and is all the more funnier for it.

The show is only running until July 19, so if you haven’t gone yet, get a move on!

High Spirits at "Blithe Spirit"

What can I possibly say about the opening night of Blithe Spirit? I’ve been to quite a few opening nights in the past couple of years, but none recalled the glamour of the Golden Age of Broadway quite like this one. Everywhere we looked, there were stars dolled up to the nines in their tuxes and evening gowns. Then to witness the sparkling champagne revival of Noel Coward’s classic play on top of it? It doesn’t get much better than that.

The evening got started as it often does at Angus for our customary opening night toast and chatter. We soon realized that we were surrounded by first nighters as we started seeing bow ties and cummerbunds wherever we looked. The red carpet was mobbed with celebrities and curious onlookers at the Shubert Theatre. The Shubert flagship had long been resident house of the recently closed Spamalot and housing its first straight play since the 1975 revival of The Constant Wife with Ingrid Bergman. After taking in some of the scenery in and around the lobby, we trekked up to the balcony where we found ourselves dispersed among the crowds. The woman to my left was clearly a regular theatregoer who was attending her very first opening night (and I instructed her to visit the lobby at intermission so as to take in the stars).

The play is a beautiful throwback to the parlor comedies of the 1930s and 40s, with enough wit and class in the staging and design that even the usually snippy Coward couldn’t help but approve. (Snippy you say? Read his diaries and compilation of letters. They’re incredibly opinionated, bitchy and often always hilarious). Christine Ebersole, Rupert Everett, Jayne Atkinson and the irrepressible Angela Lansbury star in this first-rate revival of one of Coward’s most amusing and enduring comedies. Ebersole is a bit out of her element as Elvira and has to work harder than the rest, but nevertheless turns in a fun performance as the troublemaking solipcist of a dead wife. Everett could play a role like Charles in his sleep, and in his Broadway debut as the acerbic, put-upon Charles; a game straight man to the three women at the center of the play. Atkinson is comic marvel as the living wife, Ruth, who on page is a considerable wet-blanket, turning her into the more impressionable of the wives. Susan Louise O’Connor, also making her Main Stem bow, takes the small role of Edith and turns it into a physical comedy highlight (her business involving the serving tray and the chair is quite memorable). Simon Jones and Deborah Rush add some color to the listless roles of the skeptic doctor and his awkwardly verbose wife.

However, the evening belongs to Angela Lansbury as the eccentric medium Madame Arcati. Lansbury has some hefty shoes to fill. The role was created in London and onscreen by Margaret Rutherford (best known for essaying Miss Marple in a series of 1960s films and an Oscar winner for a scene-stealing performance in The VIPs), Mildred Natwick in the original Broadway production as well as a 1950s television version and Geraldine Page in the 1987 revival. Bea Lillie had her final stage triumph starring as Arcati in High Spirits, the 1964 musical adaptation of the play.

When Lansbury made her first entrance she received lengthy applause from an audience grateful at seeing an icon on her latest icon, a hand completely deserved. Decked out in delightfully garish garb with a red wig knotted in double braids, Lansbury delivers a fresh performance that ranks with the best of them. Watching her command of the stage in a physical role such as this is nothing short of a marvel. She’s lean, she’s lithe and delightfully blithe (to borrow from Timothy Gray and Hugh Martin) in all facets of her performance, with enough energy to light up Times Square. Her look, her voice, her delivery, her timing (that delicious Bette Davis glare she gives Deborah Rush!) are all beyond compare. However, the highlight of her performance could very well be the bizarre interpretive dance Arcati does to Irving Berlin’s standard “Always.” It’s the stuff of theatrical legend, I look forward to repeat visits and I can’t wait to see her win a fifth Tony this June.

After the opening, we stargazed as the glamorous throng made it’s way across the street for the opening night party. Sarah asked Donna Murphy, looking like a Grecian goddess, when she was going to be back on Broadway. And when Elizabeth Ashley left Sardi’s and was getting into her car, we decided to give her a big round of applause because, well, she’s Elizabeth Ashley. She shouted to us “But I wasn’t in the play!” to which we replied “We know!” and just continued cheering. The evening reached it’s climax as our gathering in front of the Shubert lasted longer than the official party across the street, looking at our stars get into their cars and head home for the night. Before the night was over, we were reviving the revival complete with sock puppets. A night for the ages and one to remember.

Before I go… here’s an idea that I’ve been very vocal about: for the inevitable Actor’s Fund benefit performance present a performance of High Spirits in concert style staging at the Shubert. You’ve got two musical theatre divas reigning supreme in the choice leads. From the business they do onstage in the play, it’s clear that Atkinson and Everett have at least a passing sense of musicality and voice. Besides, who wouldn’t love to hear a full orchestra knock that sensational overture out of the ballpark? Or have Angela Lansbury crooning a love song to her ouija board? Or have Christine Ebersole fly around faster than sound? I’d be there. Just a thought… In the meanwhile, get your tickets to Blithe Spirit!!

Opening Night!

I have returned! To celebrate, I will be taking in the opening night of Blithe Spirit at the Shubert Theatre this evening with Sarah, Roxie and friends. The revival of the famed Noel Coward farce stars Christine Ebersole, Rupert Everett and our beloved Angela Lansbury with Jayne Atkinson and Simon Jones under the direction of Michael Blakemore. I am looking forward to this production moreso than any other this season. Angie is taking on the role of the eccentric medium Madame Arcati, a role originated by Margaret Rutherford in London (who preserved it in the film adaptation) and Mildred Natwick on Broadway (who played the part in a 1950s television production that starred Coward, Claudette Colbert and Lauren Bacall). Geraldine Page took on the role in the 1987 revival, with Patricia Conolly taking over after Page’s unexpected death during the run. The 1964 musical version of the piece, High Spirits starred Beatrice Lillie in her final stage appearance as Arcati, with Tammy Grimes and Edward Woodward. The musical, which received a reading with Roundabout last year, isn’t as strong as the original play. However, it’s score is quite enjoyable; containing one of my favorite overtures and favorite eleven o’clock numbers (the bluesy, showstopping “Home Sweet Heaven”).

Coming Soon!!

When Grey Gardens opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre in 2006, it established itself as the only Broadway show ever based on a documentary. Winning Tony awards for its stars Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson, the musical had a 306 performance run before it closed prematurely due to much-publicized poor producing. Thankfully, Albert Maysles, who created the original documentary about Big Edith and Little Edie Beale, brought his video camera around to document the gestation of the musical through its Broadway opening in a new film called Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway. This documentary is set to air on PBS as a part of its “Independent Lens” series next week. For those of us in NY with Channel 13, it airs on Tuesday, December 23 at 10PM. The channel 21 airings on WLIW will be on Wednesday, December 24 @ 9AM, 3PM and 8:PM and Thursday, December 25 @ 1AM. For those of you around the rest of the country, be sure and check your local listings at the PBS website.

Home Sweet Heaven

Alright, so it’s not a revival of High Spirits, but I can barely contain my excitement at the idea of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit coming back to Broadway. The 1941 play, about the chaos that ensues when a man’s dead wife is resurrected during a seance, was last seen on Broadway in 1987 starring Richard Chamberlain, Blythe Danner and Geraldine Page.

The revival is going to be directed by Michael Blakemore and it was just announced today that the production is going to star Christine Ebersole as Elvira, the first (deceased) wife. I’ve heard the producers want Angela Lansbury for the role of the eccentric medium Madame Arcati, a role written for Margaret Rutherford (and subsequently played by Mildred Natwick in the original Broadway cast and by Bea Lillie in the musical adaptation, High Spirits in 1964). Lansbury has apparently gone on record saying she wouldn’t take on any more stage roles after the taxing production of Deuce. Let’s hope that producer Jeffrey Richards and Blakemore can convince her otherwise!

Other casting is pending. Any thoughts on who should round out the play?

Has anyone ever seen a real showstopper?

Terry019 opened up this thread on All That Chat today and I had to share:

“Has anyone ever seen a real literal show-stopper? The only one I’ve seen in many years of going to the theater was the very short-lived “1600 Pennsylvania Ave”. It followed a number performed by Patricia Rutledge where she sung at once as both Lucy Hayes and Julia Grant. She then exited (her scene finished)and the actors assembled for the next scene. The audience however would not stop screaming and applauding. They tried to continue the show but the audience would have none of it. Finally, Ms. Rutledge returned, in a robe since she had obviously changed out of their costume and received the audience’s adulation. It was only then that the show continued. That was a REAL show-stopper. Anyone else have an experience like that?”

As much as I love hearing about my favorite show-stopper, alas I wasn’t alive to see it. In my theatre-going experiences, I have seen numbers stop the show, in varying ways, sometimes that extra burst of applause that keeps the praise going just a little longer than usual to the audience out of their seats going nuts sort of deal. Or sometimes, a great star appears onstage and that in itself is cause for the audience to erupt in an overwhelming display of vocal affection. The first memorable experience with a showstopping moment was the day my life changed forever. That was May 30, 2004 at the Shubert Theatre, where Bernadette Peters was playing her final performance in the Gypsy revival. Sondheim got entrance applause during the overture as he ducked into his seat. The overture got a standing ovation – and that itself should have warned for the Vesuvius to come minutes later. People were anticipating the moment. And there she was, in the back of the house shouting out “Sing out…” I didn’t hear the Louise. I don’t think anyone did. People rose as she walked down the aisle of the theatre, with the same reverence one would give at a commencement or wedding. Except we were loud, and there was no stopping us. They finished the scene and Bernadette had to wait until we were ready to let her go on. And that boys and girls was the first time I saw a show legitimately stopped. There were several other moments that very day, especially the “Turn.” Now, the theatregoing experience remains ranked high on my list of events, but it was because of that show I met Noah, and indirectly how I met Sarah, two of the great theatregoers whom I admire and respect greatly. Let’s face it, if it weren’t for BP, I wouldn’t be typing this blog at this very minute, because Sarah and Noah would never have convinced me to do it. So for that, one must be grateful to the kewpie-diva supreme.

Others that followed, Hugh Jackman’s “Once Before I Go” in The Boy From Oz, “La Cage Aux Folles” and “I Am What I Am” in the revival of La Cage Aux Folles. Brian Stokes Mitchell’s “This Nearly Was Mine” at the Carnegie Hall South Pacific (what you’ve seen on TV and heard on record is cut down considerably from the lengthy ovation he received that night). At the closing performance o The Light in the Piazza, several numbers got extended applause including “Statues and Stories,” “Il Mondo Era Vuoto,” and “Dividing Day” (with an emphasis on the latter). Christine Ebersole’s entrance as Little Edie at the top of Act Two in Grey Gardens brought about an immediate standing ovation until Ebersole’s hands-on-hips pose broke and she covered her mouth from the emotional response she had. When it died down, someone shouted out “We love you” and completely as Little Edie, she countered with heartfelt “Oh – and I love all of you too.” and immediately continued into “The Revolutionary Costume for Today.” Audra’s “Raunchy” at a Saturday matinee of 110 in the Shade brought the proceedings to a screeching halt; “Totally Fucked” at Spring Awakening; and it goes without saying Patti LuPone as Rose last summer at the City Center and on her opening night at the St. James had a couple of showstopping moments, including the “Turn.” Paulo Szot’s “This Nearly Was Mine” on the opening night of South Pacific. Juan Diego Florez’s “Pour mon ame” from La Fille du Regiment; Emily Pulley’s “Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land)” at A White House Cantata. And most recently, Beth Leavel’s “Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone Blues” at Encores! No, No, Nanette.
The only time I’ve seen that sort of reaction at a play was the opening night of August: Osage County after the second act button. The roaring of approval from the audience continued after the house lights had come up after intermission. I’ve never had that experience at a drama before, and doubt there are many plays that offer a moment of such adrenalized electricity.

What are yours, folks?

Rifke! …and other anecdotes from my trip to "Applause"

I’ve had a taste of, the sound that says love… ApplauseHm. Roxie and I attended the final performance of the Encores! presentation of this 1970 Best Musical winner. It was a great afternoon. I watched the impressive natural wonder of a arctic cold front push across the Hudson River while I waited for the train. Wandered around the Times Square area with Roxeleh before the show. Had a most amusing dinner at a diner down the street from the City Center. The title of this post comes from a rather absurd moment where this woman sat next to us while we were eating. First off, as she was being handed the menu she asked the waitress what I was eating as if I wasn’t even there. Her voice was also at a volume where her entire conversation was privvy to the both of us. And let me just say hilarity ensued. The woman was in her sixties and sounded like Mae Questal with a post-nasal drip. Roxie and I burst into a quiet frenzies of hysterical laughter when the woman started talking about her Yiddish class to a random friend and went on about her classmate Rifke. “Oh my goodness, Rifke put down she was 24! Can you believe it?! Oh that Rifke!” Now those of you who are familiar with Fiddler on the Roof know that Rifke is the first recipient of “The Rumor.” But the combination of the elements led Roxie and I into hysterical fits of laughter. You had to be there, but it could possibly rival seeing Ms. Ebersole tear up the stage as the highlight of the day.

Anyway. Applause. You can see my previous post back in October about the guilty pleasure status of this score. Well. It was certainly a fun time. The show is rather poor in practically every way. Yes, I’m well aware that 20th Century Fox wouldn’t allow the musical theatre team to use any of the screenplay; yes, I’m aware that the 1970s was a different era, and contemporizing was the rage. But did no one stop to think that what they were writing was pretty much sub-par?


Christine Ebersole. Yes, everything about her is true. She is a musical theatre diva with endless energy, voice, charisma, beauty and presence. Probably a whole slew of other things wondrous as well. Margo has never been more attractive and so relatable as she was last evening. For the first time, I felt “Hurry Back” worked. In the original production, it was performed as a part voice-over (what?!) and then Bacall, in her basement keys took over live. It just felt like dead weight that didn’t go anywhere. Ebersole brought it to life with a great deal of heart and some delightfully jazz vocals. Fortunately for the comfort of all in the house, the keys for Margo were brought up 4ths and 5th, allowing Ebersole her comfort belt and tones, which sold every number; especially her powerhouse rendition of the second-rate “Welcome to the Theatre” (if the first half of the lyrics were as good as the second half, I’d consider a change). And especially for someone who missed a great deal of the rehearsal time due to influenza, she scored big time and unlike Stokes in Kismet, I was able to forgive her reliance on the prompt book.
Mario Cantone. Playing the role of the sassy gay sidekick to the diva usually lends itself to caricature; but Cantone played Duane, Margo’s dresser as a friend and confidante who also just happened to be a very funny individual. Cantone’s exercise in restraint and nuance was much appreciated by those in attendance. You knew he cared for and protected Margo; and it showed with a very warm relationship between the two characters.
– The ensemble. They danced it up; especially the boys in “But Alive” who managed to send up the camp while delivering it. (Here’s the clip from the 1973 telecast with Bacall. Outrageous. http://youtube.com/watch?v=71dRwNTN69I). They brought down the house with the title song. They even managed to work with the dreck of “She’s No Longer a Gypsy,” the bizarre “Fasten Your Seatbelts,” and “Backstage Babble.”
Kate Burton. Who can do so much with so little. What a treat. And what a waste of a role. This woman deserves to be doing anything from Phyllis in Follies to Vera in Mame.
Michael Park and Tom Hewitt. In choice supporting roles as lover and producer of the star; they take a necessary backseat to the Margo-Eve story.
– The first act. It plays much smoother. What is bad, is at least enjoyable camp and therefore more amusing to watch and hear.
– The gentleman behind us who was so excited to see Christine Ebersole we thought he was going to have a diva fit. It was priceless. Especially Roxie’s enjoyment of the entire proceeding.
– The orchestra. They sounded phenomenal. Great sound, great musical direction and a great complement to the singers.

The In-Between:

Erin Davie. A fresh-faced delight from Grey Gardens; her best scenes were opposite Ebersole. However, I don’t think she was well-directed. She was too “Little Evie” for my liking. Noah was incredibly accurate in describing her “One Hallowe’en” as “Daddy’s Girl.”
Chip Zien. He’s rather annoying. But he wasn’t terrible.
– The midsection of the title song. It was cute, but it got cloying. They removed the original mid-section of the number with a send-up of various hit musicals by replacing lines with “applause.” Here, they did an Encores! best-of run-down, setting up a small gold proscenium and people performing snippets from a slew of musicals that have been done in recent years. A few of them were amusing, but come on. Also, he glaring anachronism of using “All That Jazz” and “Beautiful Girls” in a song that takes place in early ’71 was rather irritating. (Granted Follies was a few months away, but it’s highly doubtful this chorus boy would have been singing “Beautiful Girls” at this point). The original was also quite famous for its Oh, Calcutta! moment where the boys flashed their asses to the audience; something that was also telecast on the Tony’s in 1970 ON CBS!!!! (I’m surprised they got away with it).


– The score. I’m sorry Sarah, in spite of occasionally amusing campy numbers, and one really good song (the title), this is the worst score of a Best Musical winner. Strouse and Adams have run the gamut – Bye Bye Birdie to Bring Back Birdie should say it all. The second act is particularly hideous (“One of a Kind” takes it cue from a coffee tagline; then crams too many words into too short a space and just kinda sits there awkwardly).
– The book. Jesus Christ. One of the greatest films ever. A pretty middling book. It lacks bite. It lacks character development; And it lacks a satisfying ending. In fact, the ending was a complete rushjob. Comden and Green have delivered class and wit in many of their shows; in spite of a few great one liners, they were not the people for this job. Certain characters (Karen, Buzz, etc) just lose so much in this translation.
– The second act. There is little to salvage even for a camp factor. And who the hell thought “Truman Capote’s balls” was a good idea for a lyric?
– The ending. A combination of the two previous entries. Not only was it rushed, it was unsatisfactory. All of a sudden everything was wrapped up; Eve was basically a kept woman by her producer and Margo decides to give up the theatre for marital bliss. WHAT? Well, at least that’s what came about from the terrible eleven o’clock number “Something Greater.” The hook: “There’s something greater.” I’m still not sure if it was intentional, but suddenly it feels as though the actress playing Margo is commenting on the song she’s singing… When you get the revelation that Margo wants to “be what to her man what a woman should be is something greater and finally that’s for me.” Horrible. When Encores! did Fiorello! in its first season, they revised the creaky “strikes me” line from “The Very Next Man.” Besides, someone as interesting and in love with theatre like Margo couldn’t possibly give up one for the other; but try to find a balance between the two. It’s not Bill would ever give up his directing career for her, so why would she not be the diva to her adoring public? Also, we lose the book-end effect of the flashback, where we come back to the awards and everyone gets in their parting shots (Bette Davis has what I think is the greatest exit line on film) and also the incredibly memorable final scene of poetic justice.
– Direction. I don’t think Kathleen Marshall showed up.
– Playbills. How could the City Center run out of Playbills for a 5 performance run? Most of the gallery received photocopied programs that you might get at an elementary school production. Fortunately Roxie spotted some while we were making a brief trip to the rear mezz to see Sarah and Kari. Though it felt like we were going to have to ward off the angry mob when we got back up after intermission.

Imagine if:

Arthur Laurents wrote the book, with Jule Styne and Bob Merrill providing the score. Perhaps Angela Lansbury was Margo Channing; we can keep Penny Fuller, who may be the definitive Eve; watch her on the telecast and prepare to be floored. She even, after the flashbacks, makes early Eve likable. Just throwing that out there….

Overheard while waiting for the train…. Three actors talking in Grand Central Station… “Oh my goodness, we just came from the final dress of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It was embarassing. We couldn’t even stay for the third act.” Oh dear. Well, I guess I’ll find out for myself on March 12.

Little Edie to raid London?

As per Liz Smith in Variety:

“THE LONDON production of Grey Gardens is now “on” with a vengeance. Rights reverted from the original Broadway production and came back to the authors and composers. Music man Scott Frankel and star-producer Tony-winner Christine Ebersole took off for London to put little Edie Beale and her adventures on the West End. This musical will be a natural for the Brits who love eccentrics…”

So I guess now that the rights are no longer held by the Gondas, the show can flourish in London as well as on tour (Vicki Clark, are you reading? OK, probably not). It was a shame to see this show fold early, as it was my personal favorite of the 2006-07 season. The score is the best on Broadway since Piazza. The lyrics are outrageously brilliant. The assonance, the diction, the structure and rhyme schemes run the gamut of Cole Porter-Irving Berlin wit in the first act to the sophistication of Sondheim in the second. The care and craft that built this score is beyond mere words I place here in this space. If you look at it, its really a two-hander; each act is its own musical, but together as one emotionally turbulent and ultimately compelling evening.

The first act is fictionalized look at the Beale backstory, trying to give the audience some insight into these two eccentric women and how they ended up in the delapidation documented in the Maysles’ film. Taking cues from the musical icons of the era, we have a lovely pastiche score. “The Five-Fifteen” is one of the greatest opening numbers I’ve heard in years. Particularly it’s insanely catchy vamp (as part of the exit music, I left the theatre humming the rideout). The first act plays out like a Philip Barry dramedy set to music. While not as satisfying as the second act, it’s a clever and inventive way to give the film portion of the musical some context. I can’t imagine many people have seen the brilliant documentary, so it’s necessary for us to learn more about these two ladies than the mere fact that they are Jackie Onassis’ cousin and aunt. Also, in an age when musicals based on films are mere retreads of the films + songs, it was refreshing to see the creative team step back and try something different. (This is, also, the first time a documentary has ever been made into a musical).

The second act is where people have truly been astonished. Christine Ebersole’s performance was astounding. Playing Edith in the first act as a vindictive variation on Auntie Mame (complete with pure, unadulterated soprano tones), she enters the second act set 33 years later as Young Edie, in a complete transformation (to nasal character belt) that in itself usually stopped the show. Following the screenplay from the film, the second act is considerably stronger, even finding a dramatic arc the cinema verite documentary lacks. Ebersole as Edie will one day become synonymous with Martin as Peter Pan and Merman as Rose. It’s the stuff of legend. Mary Louise Wilson as aged Edith is also a marvel. Both actresses inhabit the characters of these women without merely imitating the film (though the physical and aural resemblances are uncanny), finding depth in the scene work and playing off each other (particularly with the delicious insults) like a finely played game of tennis. (After the remarkable critical reception and eventual Tony awards received by these actresses, I really don’t need to expound any further. I also just want to mention William Ivey Long’s indelible award winning costumes here as well).

I saw Grey Gardens three times on Broadway (the second time being the first performance post-Tony where Ebersole got a standing ovation at the top of the second act, something I was unaccustomed to but glad to be a part of). My first experience was through the documentary which, truth be told, stunned me completely. I was left wondering “What happened?” as most people I know feel after watching it. It was alternately hilarious and horrifying. I was first exposed to the score via the Off-Broadway recording. The show premiered at the Walter Kerr shortly afterward in what is the final version. I marveled at how they found the characters through song. “The Revolutionary Costume for Today” is the best list song we’ve had in decades. Not only does it follow the general terms of a list song, it surpasses it through its revelation of character. Little Edie’s philosophies on dress say much more about her opinions and thoughts than almost any other song in the show (save for the devastating “Around the World” and “Another Winter in a Summer Town” later in the second act). It has to be heard to be fully understood and appreciated. (I was thrilled too, to have a final Broadway recording that incorporates the revisions and cast changes made in transferring the show from Off-Broadway to on).

I’m really not going into in depth analysis of the score here, because that in itself would take up several blogs. See the documentary. Listen to the recording. Marvel in the genius. It’s exciting to know that the show will have life past its relatively short-lived and financially disastrous original Broadway run. London, tour, regional? So who cares if the inferior Spring Awakening won Best Musical. Doesn’t mean it was.

Win the revolution with style, kids.