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Grey Gardens at The Walter Kerr Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

East of Doheny, Staunch Entertainment, Randall L. Wreghitt/Mort Swinsky,
Michael Alden and Edwin W. Schloss, in association with Playwrights Horizons,

Christine Ebersole
Grey Gardens
(“Grey Gardens”, the Documentary Film)

At the
Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48th Street
A Jujamcyn Theatre

Book by Doug Wright
Music by Scott Frankel
Lyrics by Michael Korie
Musical Staging by Jeff Calhoun
Directed by Michael Greif

Starring: Mary Louise Wilson
Featuring: Matt Cavenaugh, Erin Davie, Kelsey Fowler,
Sarah Hyland, Michael Potts, Bob Stillman
and John McMartin

Scenic Design: Allen Moyer
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design: Brian Ronan
Projection Design: Wendall K. Harrington
Hair & Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Orchestrations: Bruce Coughlin
Music Director: Lawrence Yurman
Music Coordinator: John Miller
General Management: Alan Wasser-Allan Williams
Production Stage Manager: Judith Schoenfeld
Production Management: Juniper Street Productions
Press: The Publicity Office
Marketing: TMG-The Marketing Group

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 23, 2007

Edith Bouvier Beale (1896-1977) and her daughter, Little Edie (1917-2002), were the aunt and the first cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. For over twenty years, the two women, born into high society, lived together in East Hampton, Suffolk County, NY, at the 28-room, Grey Gardens, recluses in an unhealthy and unkempt manner. In 1972, the “National Enquirer” exposed their sad situation, and the Suffolk County Health Department fined and condemned the property for health code violations (1972). Jackie Onassis helped to clean and repair the deteriorating mansion, during which time (1974) the documentary, Grey Gardens, was filmed. The Broadway musical is based on this documentary. In 2007, a new film, starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, will be produced. (Assisted by Program and Wikipedia Notes).

From the moment the hidden orchestra struck its first chord and the curtain rose to the sad 1973 “Prologue” set of two recluse women trying to survive in a squalid, crumbling mansion, filled with stray cats and many cans of cat food, you could feel the energy of a great show. These were not just any two women. These were the Beales, one, Edith Bouvier Beale (Mary Louise Wilson), the aunt of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and her daughter, “Little” Edie Beale (Christine Ebersole), Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier’s cousins. (See a book signing about Lee and Jacqueline’s youthful vacation with Lee Bouvier Radziwill at Rizzoli). The Prologue is brief, and “Little” Edie is mostly hidden behind the window, but the mother-daughter biting humor is sharp, tight, and revealing of the next two Acts.

Act I is set in 1941 in the same Grey Gardens mansion, when it was filled with plush furniture, bar, piano, oriental rug, high ceilings, and the velvet veneer of luxury. Thanks to Wendall K. Harrington’s projection design, one has the illusion of generous gardens, trees, and property. An engagement party is being prepared, and the guests will arrive soon, to celebrate the scintillating “Little” Edie’s (Erin Davie) impending marriage to Jo Kennedy, Jr. (Matt Cavenaugh). Yes, THE Jo Kennedy, Jr. Both “little” Jackie and Lee (Sarah Hyland and Kelsey Fowler), who both looked strikingly like the child versions of their respective characters, are preened and the embodiment of youthful “horsy set”. Brooks, Sr. (Michael Potts), the ever-ready butler/gardener, is white-gloved and supportive. George Gould Strong (Bob Stillman), Mrs. Bouvier Beale’s (now played by Christine Ebersole) gay pianist friend, who lives in upscale fashion for the price of musical accompaniment to Edith’s domestic cabaret, reminds me of a caged Cole Porter.

J. V. “Major” Bouvier (John McMartin), Edith’s father and “Little” Edie’s grandfather, is cruel, cold, and destructive to the emotional needs of his daughter (who’s divorced from her husband), but thrilled at the new Bouvier-Kennedy match. Unfortunately, “Big” Edie, realizing that she’s about to lose the company of her daughter, confides to Joe Kennedy, Jr. about “Little” Edie’s past carousing and her reputation with the boys. In true Kennedy style, the women who marry Kennedys must be chaste and ingénue, so Joe quickly disappears, prior to the guests’ arrival. In anger, “Little” Edie disappears as well.

In Act II, 1973, almost thirty year later, mother and daughter (Mary Louise Wilson and Christine Ebersole) are alone with dozens of cats (again thanks to Mr. Harrington’s projection designs), Brooks, Jr. (Michael Potts), the handyman, Jerry (Matt Cavenaugh), and visions of Norman Vincent Peale (John McMartin) and a choir (the remaining Act I cast as choir). This is the act that rivets the production, with the saucy songs of woe, bits of family history (including Joe Kennedy, Jr.’s plane crash in World War II), and the searing struggle of wits between the “Big” and “Little” Edies. In fact, it’s apparent that “Little” Edie returned to care for her “hungry” mother, assuming she was at death’s door, when, in spite, her mother became even stronger.

The book, above, amazingly, is just the structure of this sensational musical. The high points are Christine Ebersole’s canary-like vocals, as both mother (Act I) and daughter (Act II). In Act I, Bob Stillman actually accompanied Ms. Ebersole with panache, when the wine was flowing and the hearth was warm. Drift Away was elegant and lyrical, while Mother, Darling, also joined by the musically talented, Erin Davie, was foreboding of the less fashionable future. Marry Well was also prescient, sung by Major Bouvier, Brooks, Jackie, Lee, and “Little” Edie, considering that Jackie married a President and Lee married a Prince. “Little” Edie’s rendition of The Telegram was Ms. Davie’s high point, as she learned that her father would not attend the party. In Act II, Mary Louise Wilson’s evocative The Cake I Had was one of her showcase moments, while The House We Live In, sung by Christine Ebersole and company, gave new meaning to “home sweet home”.

Allen Moyer’s sets are intricately illustrative of this tale of riches to rags, while William Ivey Long’s Act I flowing dresses and jewelry appear in stark contrast to the sassy put-togethers of “Little” Edie in Act II. The clothes also shine a light on the level of mental togetherness in Edie’s life, 1941-1973, couture to trash. Yet, that “trash” never looked better on any woman, and she knew how to show her legs. One could not help rooting for the survival of these two needy ladies, even when they both lusted a bit for Jerry. When they ate “cat food” caviar, they bore themselves naked. Kudos to Christine Ebersole; and, Kudos to Doug Wright (Book), Scott Frankel (Music), Michael Korie (Lyrics), Jeff Calhoun (Musical Staging), and Michael Greif (Director) for a must-see-again, new Broadway hit musical. Lawrence Yurman, Conductor, kept the orchestra in the appropriate moment and mood.

While the program notes both fact and fiction as the book for this production, I look forward to seeing the new version of the documentary about the Bouviers and Beales, The Beales of Grey Gardens, created by the Maysles Brothers, as a sequel to their award-winning documentary, Grey Gardens, known for its cinema verité.

CHRISTINE EBERSOLE as "Little" Edie Beale in a scene from the Broadway production of the new musical GREY GARDENS.
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

SARAH HYLAND as Jackie Bouvier, CHRISTINE EBERSOLE as Edith Bouvier Beale, KELSEY FOWLER as Lee Bouvier and BOB STILLMAN as Gould in a scene from the Broadway production of the new musical GREY GARDENS.
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

Pictured (left to right): CHRISTINE EBERSOLE as "Little" Edie Beale and MARY LOUISE WILSON as Edith Bouvier Beale in a scene from the Broadway production of the new musical GREY GARDENS.
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at