Little Edie sings! `Grey Garden’s comes to TheatreWorks

Beth Glover is Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale in the TheatreWorks production of Grey Gardens, the first since the original closed on Broadway. Photo by David Allen

For Beth Glover, Grey Gardens is al all-you-can-Edie experience.

The veteran actress plays Big Edie and in Grey Gardens, the musical based on the 1975 documentary of the same name. In Act 1, set in 1941, Glover is the mother, Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale. And in Act 2, set in 1973, she plays the daughter, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale.

It’s a juicy pair of roles for an actress, and Glover is immersing herself in the world of the Beales for the TheatreWorks production of Grey Gardens that begins performances this week in Mountain View.

The Mississippi-born Glover remembers the first time she saw the documentary by brothers Albert and David Maysles. “When I moved to New York in the ’80s, any gay man worth his salt had a library of videotapes that comprised Rosalind Russell’s every word or movement. Barbra Streisand is a given amid this huge video library of stuff no one has ever seen. One of those things was Grey Gardens, and when I saw it, I freaked out. I had never seen anything like it.”

The documentary tells the story of mother Beale, aunt to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and her daughter who lived in their crumbling, flea- and vermin-infested East Hamptons mansion, dubbed Grey Gardens, with dozens of cats, raccoons and piles and piles of garbage.

“The Beales’ story depressed me at first,” Glover says, “but then I realized that these women were living the lives they chose and really bucking social conventions. In the documentary you can see, in essence, they don’t care. They make a little noise about it, but they don’t change at all. They do not change their behavior. They clean up a little because they were about to be thrown out and Jackie comes to the rescue, but they go right back to living with all the cats.”

The musical, with music by Scott Frankel, lyrics by Michael Korie and a book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife), opened off-Broadway in 2006 then transferred to Broadway later that year, where it one a Tony Award for Christine Ebersole, whose roles are being taken over by Glover at TheatreWorks in the first Grey Gardens production outside New York.

Turning a documentary into a musical is an unusual evolution, but Glover says it’s a “no brainer.”

“Big Edie and Little Edie loved music,” she says. “When Little Edie was told years ago that there was interest in creating a musical, she wrote, `My whole life was music and song. It made up for everything. Thrilled, thrilled, thrilled…With all I didn’t have, my life was joyous.'”

Her life was also kooky, as evidenced in the documentary by Little Edie’s, um, creative fashion choices – skirts on her head, scarves work as a skirt.

“What’s great about Edie is that even when she goes a little loopy, she’ll come right back and tell you what she’s done and what has happened,” Glover says. “She’s still self-aware. In the commentary on the documentary DVD, Albert says that Edie felt she had a break, a nervous break, a break from reality – whatever. It happened before she returned home, when she was in New York. That makes sense to me because her father was still alive and she was still trying to please him and still listening to her mother. Hers was not a personality that could handle that, and there was a seismic shift in her.”

Glover (above with Dale Soules as Big Edie) sites a scene in the documentary when Edie says to the camera, in effect, that she needs to “get it all together in my mind. I need an ordered life.”

And Glover points out that the only ordered thing in her life was her bed. “It’s always clean. There’s her order right there. Her mother’s bed is a total shithole, but Edie’s bed is immaculate. It’s not clean like we’d want a bed to be clean – it probably is full of fleas and redcoats. But there are no newspapers on it, no cat shit.”

More than just a documentary about the fall of American aristocrats, Grey Gardens, according to Glover, is universal because it wallows in “the road not taken.”

“Everybody’s got one of those,” Glover says. “You may say, `Thank God I didn’t take that road,’ but you still have that story back there.”

The other universal involves the mother-daughter relationship.

“When do you cut the apron strings?” Glover asks. “We all cut them at a different time. Edie kept trying. She didn’t know which way to go.”

At the end of the documentary, Edie says, “Uh, another winter. I hope mother doesn’t die. She’s a lot of fun.”

Glover points to that quote as one of Edie’s great moments of self-awareness, and it’s a moment that gets musicalized in the song “Another Winter in a Summer Town.”

In moments like that, Glover finds Edie “beautiful.”

“She’s so lovable,” Glover says. “There are moments when she sits and stews because her mother is taking all the attention or she’s focusing it (handyman) Jerry. We see Edie fight for attention constantly. She wants to be heard. We all understand that.”

Grey Gardens begins performances Wednesday, Aug. 20 and continues through Sept. 14 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are$26-$54. Call 650-903-6000 or visit for information.

Here’s a great clip of Little Edie in the documentary Grey Gardens:

Show tunes and fireworks

Every year around the Fourth of July, I like to celebrate something entirely American: the musical.

I’m a little late this year, but it’s my patriotic duty. So here, better late than never, are some show tune suggestions to get you through the summer.

Of course the original cast album of the moment is Spring Awakening (Decca Broadway). The Duncan Sheik-Steven Sater score, performed by the most appealing cast on Broadway, calls out for frequent spins and rewards careful listening.

Almost as appealing, but in an entirely different way, is Curtains (Broadway Angel), the John Kander and Fred Ebb (with help from Rupert Holmes) show that has turned into a reliable hit on Broadway. The score by Kander and the late Ebb is pure, old-fashioned Broadway, with a few of the duo’s famed vamps thrown in for good measure.

The emotional highlight is Jason Danieley’s “I Miss the Music,” which is, in some ways, Kander’s musical memorial to his late writing partner.

Stars David Hyde Pierce and Debra Monk are completely charming, and the disc is highly enjoyable — a classic show music experience. And for theater fans, there are abundant inside jokes (especially on Monk’s “It’s a Business) and a new theater anthem, a la “There’s No Business Like Show Business” in the rousing “Show People.”

The CD from the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of 110 in the Shade (PS Classics) is worth owning for one reason: Audra McDonald. She elevates this 1964 Harvey Schmidt-Tom Jones score to fine art. Just listen to her extraordinary performance — both acting and singing — on “Love, Don’t Turn Away,” “Raunchy” and “Old Maid.”

An unusal occurrence in this day and age, Grey Gardens received cast albums for both its off-Broadway and Broadway incarnations. The Broadway album (distinguished by the green cover with star Christine Ebersole wearing a hat and peering around a hand mirror) from PS Classics is the one to own. It’s a more polished version of the score, and the performances (especially from Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson, both Tony winners for this show) are even richer. It’s sad that the musical is closing so soon after winning Tonys, but at least the performances are preserved here.

I’ve reviewed the revival CD of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company in this space before, but I have to amend that review. After seeing the show, I fell in love with the CD, especially the performance by Raul Esparza, which I had disparaged after just listening to the disc.

Esparza was amazing onstage, and the disc from Nonesuch/PS Classics captures every bit of warmth and flawed humanity he displays in person.

Finally, we have a disc from one of the season’s major flops. High Fidelity (Ghostlight Records) never should have been a musical, and this disc demonstrates exactly why. Nick Hornby’s story about popular music snobs who work in a record store is full of very strong opinions about what makes music good and what makes it suck. The kind of music delivered here by composer Tom Kitt is exactly the kind of music that the story’s characters would make fun of. Amanda Green’s lyrics are actually pretty clever, but they’re mired in mild-to-murky pop that obscures their charms.

Two more discs to check out: Broadway Scene Stealers: The Women and Broadway Scene Stealers: The Men, both from Playbill Records and Masterworks Broadway. Hardcore show tune enthusiasts will already have most of the cuts on these discs, but they’re excellent surveys of musical theater and don’t have all the usual suspects (for instance, there’s no Andrew Lloyd Webber), and all the cuts are from original cast albums originally released on Columbia or RCA (a benefit of the Sony/BMG merger).

Tony’s winning quartet

A salute to the big musical winners from Sunday’s Tony Awards: (from left) Frank Langella, best actor for Frost/Nixon, Christine Ebersole, best actress for Grey Gardens, Julie White, best actress for The Little Dog Laughed and David Hyde Pierce, best actor for Curtains.

The number from Mary Poppins, a little “Chim Chim Cheree,” “Step in Time” and “Anything Can Happen,” came across very well, but my favorite was “Show People” from Curtains (below). And Audra McDonald’s “Raunchy” oughta sell a few tickets.

Tony party planning

OK, people, time to start planning those Tony Award viewing parties for Sunday, June 10 on CBS.

We’ve got to get those dismal ratings up, so if you’re having people over, make sure they’re still setting their TiVos (and VCRs if you’re archaic) to record the telecast. If you’re a Nielsen family, do some creative figuring and say you watched the Tonys on all five of your TVs.

The show’s organizers have begun talking about what we’ll be seeing.

Audra McDonald will sing “Raunchy” from 110 in the Shade, for which she is nominated in the best actress in a musical category.

Christine Ebersole will sing “The Revolutionary Costume for Today,” which happens to be the best song in Grey Gardens, for which Ebersole is competing with McDonald in the best actress category.

The cast of Curtains, featuring David Hyde Pearce, will peform “Show People” and the adorable cast of Spring Awakening (so I’m biased — sue me) will perform a medley from the Duncan Sheik-Steven Sater score. The cast of Mary Poppins will perform — probably the TV-ready “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

The revival of A Chorus Line will likely trot out “One” again (we’ve seen that baby everywhere, from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to “The View”), and Raul Esparza will probably sing “Being Alive” from the revival of Company.

Fantasia, a recent replacement in the hit The Color Purple, is also slated to perform.

There won’t be a host (sorry, Nathan Lane) this year, but the list of presenters is impressive and includes Harry Connick Jr., Claire Danes, Neil Patrick Harris, Anne Heche, Marg Helgenberger, Felicity Huffman, Eddie Izzard, Jane Krakowski, Angela Lansbury, Robert Sean Leonard, Cynthia Nixon, Bernadette Peters, Christopher Plummer, Liev Schreiber, John Turturro, Usher, Vanessa Williams, Rainn Wilson and the cast of Jersey Boys.