It's a compelling story to be sure. The 1975 film, which reached cult status, highlights the filth and disorder of the Beale's surroundings. The musical based on the film hit Broadway in 2006. Both the film and the musical have the same elements as a car wreck. It is disturbing to watch but one can't quite look away. Part of this is due to the very unique personalities of the Beale ladies, an element that translates very well to the stage.
Doug Wright of I Am My Own Wife fame does a skillful job with the book. Mr. Wright's book emphasizes both the poignant and humorous moments; he captures the tone of the original film beautifully and his version of the Beales as younger women is quite interesting. Scott Frankel and Michael Korie have created a terrific score that fits the book well and successfully creates the appropriate mood.
It is obvious that director Serge Seiden took a lot of care with this production. The show moves seamlessly, and he pulled an excellent performance out of his leading lady, Barbara Walsh (Edith Bouvier Beale/Little Edie). One can't help but wish he could have brought out the same level of performance in his act one "Little Edie." Jenna Sokolowski has a fine voice and she is a capable dancer. However, her acting skills are lacking in this role. There seems to be no chemistry between her and Barbara Walsh, but the most glaring problem is her attempt to recreate Edie Beale's distinctive accent. Ms. Sokolowski's accent sounds like a hodgepodge of different dialects and, just when she seems to get it right, she loses it again. The total effect made it difficult for this audience member to completely stay in the moment.
That being said, Barbara Walsh is just plain fun to watch. Her portrayal of "Little" Edie in act two is especially good. She captures Edie's voice and mannerisms very well. However, her performance is more than a mere impersonation. Ms. Walsh conveys the humor, confusion and heartache that was such a part of this unconventional woman.
Matching her in ability and depth is Barbara Broughton as the act two Edith Bouvier Beale. The two play well off each other, and Ms. Broughton is outstanding.
Two other standouts in the cast are Ryan Hilliard (J.V. "Major" Bouvier/Norman Vincent Peale) and Matthew Stucky (Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr./Jerry). Mr. Hilliard is quite dynamic as the Bouvier family patriarch and Stucky shows his range by playing his dual roles with equal panache.
The set by Russell Metheny and lighting by Michael Lincoln are not grand but work well for the intimate space. Erik Trester's use of projections augment the otherwise simple set. Additionally, the costumes by Alex Jaeger capture the spirit of the clothing worn in the original film.
Those who are fans of the documentary or just fascinated with "American royalty" will no doubt find this show interesting. As a whole, it is a satisfying experience. Those who want to experience Grey Gardens should order their tickets now.
The Studio Theatre
Cast: Barbara Walsh, Barbara Broughton, Bobby Smith, Jenna Sokolowski, James Foster, Jr., Alison Cenname, Simone Grossman, Ryan Hilliard, Matthew Stucky