Also see Nancy's review of Romance
First and foremost, Grey Gardens tells a compelling story about the love and interdependence between mother and daughter, the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and how they went from being East Hampton glitterati to living a penniless, reclusive existence in their crumbling Long Island home. Based on the documentary film of the same name shot in 1973 by brothers Albert and David Maysles, the musical opened Off-Broadway and had its run extended three times before moving to Broadway in November, 2006. It earned ten Tony nominations and won the awards for lead actress and featured actress in a musical, as well as best costume design. Similar prizes could very well be in the offing for this stellar local production.
With an orchestra consisting of himself and only six other musicians, Goldberg fills the intimate hall with Scott Frankel's voluptuous score and lays down a solid foundation for the vocal talents of the cast to build upon. Veloudos is the master planner who has brought together some of the finest voices in town. Plying her craft at the top of her game is Leigh Barrett, the go-to musical theatre artist in Boston. She truly shows her range in the dual roles, hitting Edith's operatic high notes and infusing Edie's plaintive ballads with rich tones and staggering emotion. Nipping at her heels is the always-evolving Aimee Doherty whose growth as an artist is cemented by her heartbreaking portrayal of the young Edie. Rounding out the trio, Sarah deLima successfully warbles as the elder Edith and inhabits the old woman, all the more remarkable because she is either sitting in a rocking chair or reclining in bed for most of her scenes.
Grey Gardens is two very different shows in act one and act two. After a brief prologue set in 1973, the story opens in July, 1941, as preparations are underway for an engagement party to honor Little Edie and Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (R. Patrick Ryan). Big Edie is in her glory, stage-managing the event and directing all of the other players, including her soul mate/pianist George Gould Strong, her nieces Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier, her father Major Bouvier and Brooks the butler. When Edith learns that Edie's father Mr. Beale will not be coming from Wall Street for the party because he is running off to get a quickie divorce, she goes into survival mode and does what she thinks is necessary to keep her daughter at home. In a casual manner, she implies to Joe that Edie is less than pure, leading into a dramatic scene between the young couple ("The Telegram"). Doherty shines in her desperate attempt to hold on to her love and her ticket out of Grey Gardens and her mother's shadow. Barrett follows with her own poignant moment as Edith realizes what she may have lost and closes the first act with "Will You?"
Thirty years later, Grey Gardens is a markedly changed place and the fortunes of Edith and Edie have deteriorated considerably. Dressed in Edie's inimitable style, Barrett opens the second act with "The Revolutionary Costume for Today," one of the more clever and amusing songs in the show. The focus of this act is the loving, albeit co-dependent relationship the women share. They are mindful of what they've lost, but keenly aware of what they have and they are never without hope. Both women still have their dreams; Edith wants to get her voice back, and Edie talks of leaving Grey Gardens for the freedom of New York. Barrett truly tugs at the heartstrings and shows the internal struggle on her face when Edie has one foot out the door ("Another Winter in a Summer Town") in a critical moment near the end of the play. Despite the sadness and degradation inherent in their situation, these women are not to be pitied, because they have their hopes and dreams. Above all, they are proud survivors, they have each other and they continue to sing and dance with abandon.
In addition to the three leading actresses, the Lyric's production succeeds on the merits of the entire company. Will McGarrahan gives a strong performance as the "kept man" Gould with just the right mix of bitters in his drinks and twinkle in his eyes. R. Patrick Ryan definitely looks the part of a Kennedy. Although he blends into the background early on, he steps up his game when Joe learns of Edie's indiscretions. Ryan capably transitions to his second act alter ego as the helpful young neighbor Jerry, managing to go from debonair to dim in the space of intermission. As the Bouvier girls, Miranda Gelch and Elise Hana have well-trained voices and copious amounts of stage presence, yet still manage to behave like children. Dick Santos is a commanding Major Bouvier who pulls no punches with Big Edie, but showers Little Edie, Jackie and Lee with affection. Brooks is respectful and long suffering, but Steven M. Key emits an obvious fondness for the mother and daughter Beale. The ensemble shares warm chemistry and is well-synchronized in Robbins' simple but effective dance routines. With Frankel's score, the vocals deserve top billing and all of these voices are top-notch.
Todesco makes efficient use of the limited stage space by rotating two-sided set pieces with handsome white paneling for the 1941 estate and weathered grey shingles for the 1973 background. A glittering chandelier, grand piano and lovely brocade furnishings are replaced by a pair of twin beds, a hot plate, a phonograph and piles of trash. Schoonmaker's designs include Big Edie's silk kimono over Chinese pajamas and other haute couture as a younger woman, and off the rack bedclothes in act two. Doherty's version of Little Edie gets to show off 1940s-style bathing suit, short shorts and a frothy party dress, while act two Edie wears a series of head coverings and upside down skirts. The Bouvier girls appear in lovely, delicate white party dresses and the men's outfits include wide leg trousers, knickers, suspenders and white dinner jackets, evocative of their class and the period.
The intimate Lyric Stage theatre space is well suited for Grey Gardens, affording an up close and personal view of Edith and Edie. Director Veloudos and his team create the visual and aural world to help us imagine what their lives were like, but it is their story well-told that holds us in its grip. After the documentary, the HBO special and the Broadway musical, the fascination with the Beales and Grey Gardens continues. Perhaps Edith captures it when she asks, "Who could ever bear to leave?"
Performances through June 6 at The Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA Box Office 617-585-5678 or www.lyricstage.com.
Grey Gardens Book by Doug Wright, Music by Scott Frankel, Lyrics by Michael Korie Directed by Spiro Veloudos, Musical Direction by Jonathan Goldberg, Choreography by Ilyse Robbins, Scenic Design by Cristina Todesco, Costume Design by Charles Schoonmaker, Lighting Design by Scott Clyve, Production Stage Manager Nerys Powell, Assistant Stage Manager Cat M. Dunham
Featuring: Leigh Barrett, Sarah deLima, Aimee Doherty, Miranda Gelch, Elise Hana, Will McGarrahan, Steven M. Key, R. Patrick Ryan, and Dick Santos