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Grey Gardens

a Musical
by Book: Doug Wright; Music: Scott Frankel; Lyrics: Michael Korie

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 3447

SHOWING : August 27, 2009 - October 10, 2009



Actor's Express is pleased to stage the Atlanta Premiere of Grey Gardens, the hit Broadway musical based on the acclaimed film that documents the lives of Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis’ flamboyantly eccentric aunt Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter “Little Edie.” Mother and daughter cling to each other through hysteria, happiness and heartbreak as the beautiful home around them falls into ruin. Indulge in the lush music, mysterious glamour and “The Revolutionary Costume for Today” inside the dilapidated, 28-room mansion called Grey Gardens.

Director Freddie Ashley
Music Director Clay Causey
Props Master Elisabeth Cooper
Stage Manager Alicia Quirk
Piano Clay Causey
Percussion L. Gerard Reid
2nd Keyboard Mark W. Schroeder
Cello April Still
J.V. "Major" Bouvier/Norman Vincent Peal Wade Benson
"Little" Edie Beale/Edith Bouvier Beale Jill Hames
Brooks Sr./Jr. David Howard
Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr./Jerry Justin McGough
Edith Bouvier Beale Kathleen McManus
George Gould Strong Michael Monroe
Young "Little" Edie Beale Sarah Turner
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


A Wonderful Score
by playgoer
Sunday, September 27, 2009
"Grey Gardens" contains the most expressive, humorous, heartfelt, melodic score I have heard in years. I fell in love with it on first hearing. My enjoyment of it continues to increase with each new hearing.

The Actor's Express production of "Grey Gardens" does justice to the score when Jill Hames, Sarah Taylor, Kathleen McManus, and Wade Benson are singing. Otherwise, the adult performances are on the weak side. Of Michael Monroe, the comment I heard during intermission was "Ew, he can't act." His singing seemed strained too. I consider his performance the low point of the production. His part had good lines, but he did next to nothing with any of them, and seemed uncomfortable being onstage. His piano playing was unremarkable, especially in comparison to the fine sounds emanating from the musicians' perch.

The other supporting roles don't have a lot of stage time, which is not to be confused with a lack of depth. Justin McGough played Joseph Kennedy as a generic juvenile romantic lead, and added little distinction to his act 2 role of Jerry. "He doesn't sound or act like a Kennedy" was the pronouncement of another audience member during intermission.

David Howard provided insufficient distinction between his act 1 and 2 roles as father and son. His reactions during "Hominy Grits" needed to be choreographed, and seemingly weren't. That hurt the clarity of his character.

I would lay most blame for the lackluster supporting performances on the show's director. Perhaps insufficient regard was paid to them (in casting and/or in rehearsal), in the face of the demands of getting the larger portions of the show in place. And all the larger portions come through winningly.

Like Dedalus, I was disappointed in act 2. Reviews of the New York productions of the show had stressed weaknesses in act 1, but I found that story arc worked well. Act 2 seemed to be a truncated version of the documentary, with insufficient telling detail. I did, however, enjoy the ingenious number suggesting the numerous cats of Grey Gardens.

The show is written as a tour-de-force for the roles played by Jill Hames. The person next to me in the audience was skeptical about her casting. (He thought Wendy Melkonian would have been a better choice.) By the end, though, he was raving about her performance. Remarks are made in act 2 about Little Edie's weight that made the role work well for Jill.

Kathleen McManus made a fearless first impression in her revealing costume, and did terrific work throughout. She is not as old as the role she plays, so the thought came to me that someday I would like to see the show cast with the same actress playing Big Edie in both acts, and with two different actresses (ideally, daughter and mother) playing Little Edie in the two acts. That would necessitate a slight alteration at the start of the show (with Little Edie instead of Big Edie appearing onstage), but might bring a different perspective to the show. It would also follow through on family resemblances between acts 1 and 2, which exists only in the Brooks Sr./Jr. characters in this production.

The set works very well, with distressed portions of flooring cleverly covered over in act 1. The revolving set provides three different locations with appropriate levels of splendor and disrepair.

"Grey Gardens" is a highly enjoyable, moving show. Jill Hames continues to show her abilities, which were missed during her sojourn in Chicago. Her voice is equal to each challenge of the score, and it is her performance that guides the show to its bittersweet conclusion. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
by Dedalus
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Watching the musical version of “Grey Gardens” was a singularly frustrating experience for me. I have long been a fan of the 1975 documentary of the same name, finding the Beales extraordinarily compelling and eccentric. Some of that has translated to the stage, but too much of it has been lost in the rush to musically tug at our heartstrings. Worse, clumsy theatrical contrivances and thinly written supporting characters seemed to make pâté out of any character arc or story development.

For the uninitiated, the documentary centered on mother and daughter “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Beale, aunt and cousin to Jacqueline Kennedy. In the early seventies, the world was shocked to find these “bastions of society” living in squalor in their gone-to-seed mansion (the “Grey Gardens” of the title). The film showed us two women betrayed by their own extreme eccentricities, which, truth to tell, were probably clinical psychological disorders.

For the musical, we’re given a first act set in 1941, when the Beales were at the height of society, and were planning a party to celebrate the yet-to-be-announced engagement between Little Edie and Joseph Kennedy Jr (which, of course, may have been only an imaginative construct of the women, rather than a true-to-life occurrence – the Kennedy’s have always denied such a planned engagement). And, just to remind us of their historical context, young Jackie and Lee Bouvier wander in and out of the Act for no dramatic purpose other than to remind us of their historical context (though it must be said, both Abby Goldberg and Katie Hollenshead are both criminally adorable in the roles). When the party (and the engagement) is cut-off-at-the-knees by “Big Edie’s” Grand Diva approach to sabotaging her daughter’s life, Act II cuts to thirty years later, when the mother and daughter live in joined-at-the-hip co-dependency and dysfunction.

One of the theatrical conceits that works well is having the same actress play Big Edie in Act One and Little Edie in Act Two, and, truth to tell, Jill Hames turns in her normally impressive work in the role(s). She is ably matched by Sarah Turner’s delicate turn as the young Little Edie in Act One, and Kathleen McManus’ rage-against-time Big Edie of Act Two. All their work is excellent on an emotional, subtextural way and their interactions are the stuff of ensemble legends. If the credibility factor linking the characters between the acts is somewhat lacking, well, this can be rationalized by the thirty years of increasing isolation and decreasing rationality. Yes, you sometimes wonder where Ms. Hames’ middle-age New York accent came from (or, rather, why Ms. Turner didn't have one), but it can be justified by viewing Act One as an idealized memory rather than an actual chronicle.

What doesn’t work so well is the lack of story-line in Act Two. We’re essentially shown the women bickering with each other, wallowing in their eccentricity, and little else. They essentially just meditate on their situation and snipe at each other – as if the playwright had come up with a marvelous set of characters and an intriguing situation and stopped, before having them actually do anything. The characters are also undercut by the supposedly lucid and go-for-the-heart emotionality of the songs, which they literally have to drop out of character to sing. There is a massive gap between the emotional lives they show us in their dialog, and the “emotional truths” they are trying to express in song. What made these women so compelling in the documentary was their tenuous grasp of emotional truth, their obvious devotion to each other for no reason other than their shared co-dependency. Here, though, Little Edie is shown to be fully aware of the trap of her commitment to her mother, fully aware of her desire to escape, and keenly depressed about her inability to do so. Her late in the show ballad “Around the World” comes across more as the dramatist’s meditation on her character rather than her own thoughts and feelings, especially when contrasted with her marvelously in-character “The Revolutionary Costume for Today.” For me, this disconnect made the entire act ring less than true, and certainly less than compelling.

But, as I said, the leads are the real reason to see this show. Of the supporting players, Micahel Monroe as Big Edie’s fey companion and pianist, and Wade Benson’s “Major Bouvier” come off the best, with fine moments and sharp characters. Justin McGough’s Joe Kennedy, though, is a tad too bland with a Kennedy accent that comes and goes at will, and his Act Two portrayal of handyman Jerry (“The Marble Faun”) makes too little of a too under-written part. David Howard does okay in the father and son roles of the Beales’ servant, but, again, the role is grossly underwritten to the point of caricature.

Technically, the set is a beautiful piece of work, matching the elegance of the 1941 Grey Gardens to the squalor of its 1973 decrepitude. The lighting scheme is a bit awkward, with lights changing colors and angles mid-song and mid-dialog for no apparent purpose. I’ll give them the benefit of my doubt, and say it was probably to show the pinball bounce and turn of the character’s emotional moments, but the design was no less distracting for being thus explained.

Perhaps my less-than-enchanted reaction to the show is based on impossible expectations from the 1975 documentary film, and perhaps those unfamiliar with it will have a much more positive response than I did. Perhaps the music itself was of the sort that underwhelms on the first hearing, but grows more interesting and evocative upon repetition. Perhaps the rainy evening and mass-traffic problems getting to the theatre just put me in the wrong frame of mind for this particular show.

But, even considering all this, when a non-fiction account of a family is more compelling and intriguing than a fictionalized (and musicalized) retelling of their story, notice must be given.

-- Brad Rudy (

Afternote: Since seeing this show and writing these comments, I've had a chance to see last year's Emmy-winning TV Movie on the Beales. A fine piece of work, it merely reinforced the narrative shortcomings of this musical version, giving a "taste" of all the intervening years of the Beales' eccentric life. Muiscal Theatre geeks should recognize Malcolm Gets ("Hello, Again" and "A New Brain," among others) in the pivotal role of George Gould Strong. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
How Grey was My Garden? Pretty Grey I'd say.
by BenAround
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Having only seen this musical version, I can only comment on that performance with no pre-conceived notions of the storyline. I intend to see the movie and documentary now to learn more.

I greatly enjoyed the performance last night from all the actors on stage. I disagee with the previous reviewer since I feel the "ensemble" characters were dead on in each of their roles. I particularly enjoyed the singing from all characters and felt every character was real and was appropriately played.

The mother-daughter relationship was well portrayed in Act I by Ms. Hames and Ms. Turner and successfully carried through in Act II by Ms. McManus and Ms. Hames. I feel this is the most critical idea to express in the work, and it was clearly the strongest part of the show I saw at AE. The element that caught my interest was the fast-paced bickering sometimes even breaking out in song between the two in both Acts. For me, this tied the two relationships together to make them more believable and acceptable for the older Big and Little Edie characters in Act II.

Act I was fast paced, upbeat, glamorous, and witty, and painted a clear picture of the family dynamics of the Bouvier household in 1941 which contrasted rather abruptly with the slower, darker, "greyer" aspects of Act II set in 1973. I felt the foreshadowing of the ultimate ending midway through Act II, I think partly due to the storyline and diaglogue, but perhaps more due to the relationship displayed through the characters as portrayed by Hames and McManus.

Musically, the choice for Gould was superbly cast with Mr. Monroe who gave us a true sense of the character not only through his acting and singing talent, but with his keyboard skills onstage as well. Bravo Mr. Ashley for casting him in that particular role.

The young girls of the cast (Abby Goldberg and Katie Hollenshead) held their own throughout the show and added to the family portrait. David Howard did a fine job as both the servant for the family in Act I (Brooks Sr.) and the gardener in Act II (Brooks Jr.). He portrayed the sense of a totally different time and place from 1941 to 1973 and made each of his characters fit the appropriate period. Mr. McGough also gave us two distinctly different and well played characters to enjoy in Kennedy and Jerry. Mr. Benson also showed versatility in portraying both the patriarch of the Bouvier clan and inspiring radio personality Norman Vincent Peale equally well. There is a fine line to walk in playing two different characters in the same play, but each of the cast members charged with the task made it work very well.

I heartily reccommend this show not so much as a "regular" musical, but certainly one that will make you think as you exit the theatre. If nothing else works for you in this show, at least you have to admit that Jerry does like Big Edie's corn. I did too.

The only complaint I had was the volume of sound (both from the actors and the orchestra) for Act I. There was simply too much sound for the venue. After a brief microphone problem with the opening number for Ms. Hames in Act II, the sound became more appropriate for the space and I never noticed another issue. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
2 main characters' performances were amazing
by reviewer7
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Jill Hames is now one of my favorite Atlanta actresses. If you are a fan of the documentary or movie, you must see this play. I saw the preview performance on Friday and left happy. Jill was able to play both of her roles with such amazing conviction and truth. I can't imagine the amount of work it took to prepare for these roles and I greatly respect her. She also has a great voice too! Kathleen McManus does an amazing job as well as Big Edie. The second act was great seeing both of these actresses share the stage together. It was MUCH stronger than the 1st act.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast fell way way short, (with the exception of Michael Monroe who did a good job). The other actors were ok and I'd say they gave C- to D+ performances. Just a little disappointing because everything I've seen at Actors Express has always had great actors. It was a little surprising. Sarah Turner, though having a beautiful voice, didn't portray the Little Edie character well at all. She was very one-demensional and played the role as a naive girl, which didn't match the character at all. Very disappointing.
Still, I enjoyed the musical because of the wonderful music and lyrics, Jill and Kathleen's performance/character development, and the great mother-daughter relationship of this story. Please see this play. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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