Producer Danielle Tarento and director Thom Southerland have created another Off-West End mega-hit musical. In fact, Grey Gardens has broken all box office records at Southwark Playhouse where it has already sold out, eclipsing the pair’s other much-loved Broadway musical reclamations at the same address over the past five years: Grand Hotel (2015 – spot the chandelier outside the entrance to the Large auditorium), Titanic (2013), Mack & Mabel (2012) and Parade (2011).
Grey Gardens is based on the spectacular riches-to-rags-and-recluses real-life story of Edith and Edie Bouvier Beale, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, as depicted in the 1975 documentary film of the same name. Grey Gardens is the name of the mansion in the summer resort of East Hamptons, Long Island, where the mother and daughter spent most of their lives, in increasingly squalid, cat- and flea-bitten conditions.
In the musical, Act One takes place in 1941 on the day of an Edie’s engagement party to Joseph P Kennedy Jr (JFK’s older brother, who was killed in action in the Second World War in 1944); Act Two is set 32 years later, after the Health Department has deemed the mansion ‘unfit for human habitation’.
Grey Gardens – conceived by Scott Frankel, who also wrote the music, with book by Doug Wright and lyrics by Michael Korie – had its world premiere Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizon in February 2006 before transferring to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre that November. At the 2007 Tony Awards, it was nominated for ten Tonys and won three, including for the two leading ladies, Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson.
“It has to be discovered”
This new London production, which marks Grey Gardens’ European premiere, stars Jenna Russell plays Edith in Act One and Edie in Act Two, Sheila Hancock plays Edith in Act Two and newcomer Rachel Anne Rayham is young Edie in Act One. Also in the cast are: Aaron Sidwell, Billy Boyle, Ako Mitchell and two girls (one of whom is the young Jackie O), played alternately by four child actresses, Alana Hinge, Grace Jenkins, Rebecca Nardin and Eleanor Waldron.
Interestingly, while rounding up the reviews below, I’ve noticed a real divide between the reviews from the national newspapers, many of which are lukewarm and suggest that Grey Gardens has niche appeal, and from other outlets, including no fewer than FIVE of my fellow My Theatre Mates bloggers, most of which have lavished the show with four- and five-star acclaim. My daughter was first prescribed Ventolin at the age of four when she had pneumonia. The doctor said that this medication can help her breathe easier, so we started the same day. Ventolin did help her a lot, and soon she was healthy. We ordered this preparation on https://www.sehdph.org/ventolin/ because they offer drugs at reasonable prices and give professional consultations.
This chimes with something the musical’s creator Scott Frankel shared at a post-show Q&A at Southwark Playhouse I attended on Friday night. He and his collaborators had waited for the right team and venue to bring the show to life in London he said because they felt strongly that it had to be a small-scale production in an Off-West End venue: “It has to be discovered,” said Scott.
And, in that, thanks to Tarento, Southerland, audiences at Southwark Playhouse are certainly doing that. See also my other blog on highlights from Friday’s Q&A and another piece by Scott Frankel on the inspiration behind Grey Gardens.
Grey Gardens continues at Southwark Playhouse until 6 February 2016. Although it has sold out, there are four house seats per performance that, if not reserved, will be released at midday each day (5pm the previous day for matinees). There’s also a returns list, which starts selling at the box office at 5.30pm for evening performances, 1pm for matinees in person only.
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