Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday Dance Party: Here's To The Lady Who's Staunch

This weekend, as we celebrate that revolutionary spirit of which so many Americans are proud, the Dance Party celebrates one of the true oddballs of the American musical theatre. 
Christine Ebersole as Little Edie Beale, in Grey Gardens.  There are many, many musicals out there based on films, but this appears to be the only one based on a documentary.
Grey Gardens, the musical, premiered Off-Broadway in early 2006 and despite lukewarm critical reception, transferred to Broadway later that year.  Two of the show's three Tony Awards are showcased in the clip below, as our star, Christine Ebersole, won for her performance, as did William Ivey Long for his costumes (the production's third Tony was won by Mary-Louise Wilson as Big Edie).
Though the musical as a whole was not enthusiastically received, the production at Playwright's Horizon transferred to Broadway on the strength of the two leading performances. Christine Ebersole and Mary-Louise Wilson dominated the second act of the musical, which was a recreation of the original documentary.  The first act was a flashback to the period when the Beales were High Society, and includes portrayals of Jacqueline Bouvier (later Kennedy), her sister Lee, and the young Joseph Kennedy.  Ebersole and Wilson both won Tonys for their work in Grey Gardens.
The musical chronicles the dysfunctional relationship between two society mavens, mother and daughter, both named Edith Bouvier Beale.  They were Jackie Kennedy's aunt and cousin, so when their reclusive lifestyle and dilapidated living conditions were reported by the National Inquirer in the early 1970s, they received national attention.  Grey Gardens became a documentary film in 1975 and has since gained cult status. 
The Beales are catnip to actresses. This 2009 TV film won the Emmy, as did Jessica Lange as Big Edie and Ken Howard as Phelan Beale, the patriarch who deserted his family and set their downward spiral in motion.

The actual Beales in the documentary. Frankly, the film
was difficult for me to get through (it took me 3 sittings,
and the thing is only 90 minutes long). I found these
women to be far more than merely eccentric, but
possibly delusional, with no ability to recognize
their true circumstances. Very hard to watch.

This week's star, Christine Ebersole, was already a Tony winner when she won again for Grey Gardens (her first award came for the revival of 42nd Street). 
Christine Ebersole (with the flowers) has had a long and varied career on stage and screen.  Here she plays a supporting role in Amadeus; she had a brief moment in Tootsie as well as many other films.  Her TV work includes a stint on One Life To Live, which earned an Emmy nomination.  She is currently in the cast of the TBS sitcom Sullivan and Son.
The inspiration for the song which was featured at the 2007 Tony Awards, and is this week's Dance Party, comes directly from the original documentary film.  As a preamble, take a look at this very short clip from the original, in which Little Edie explains the reasoning behind her "costume for today."

And now enjoy Ebersole's performance of the song which sprang from that brief encounter with Little Edie.  Yep, that costume is indeed revolutionary, but the real attraction of this clip is the quietly compelling performance of our star.