'Grey Gardens, the Musical' Premieres in SF


EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday April 28, 2015

In 1975, filmmakers Albert and David Maysles brought their cameras into the crumbling, palatial estate of Edith Bouvier Beale (the aunt of Jackie Kennedy) and her daughter, Little Edie. There they found two women ostracized from their community, hanging on to reality by a thread, and surrounded by dozens of cats and raccoons. "Grey Gardens, the Musical" examines both the backstory of this fascinating family and the fate they couldn't possibly have imagined. It was the first musical on Broadway ever to be adapted from a documentary.

Named one of Broadway's "Best of 2006," "Grey Gardens, the Musical" boasts a book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel, and lyrics by Michael Korie. The Custom Made production is directed by Stuart Bousel, with musical direction by David Brown.

"Grey Gardens, the Musical" previews May 22-24, opens May 26, and runs through June 21, 2015 at Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough Street, San Francisco. (415) 798-CMTC (2682) www.custommade.org

The Cast features David Brown, Nathan Brown, Nandi Drayton Mary Gibboney, Gabrielle Jarvie, Juliana Lustenader, AeJay Mitchell, Heather Orth, CC Sheldon, and Dave Sikula.

Creative Staff includes William Campbell - lights, Cat Howser - stage manager, Brooke Jennings* - costumes , Stewart Lyle - scenic design, Kim Saunders - choreography.

"With an intimate, musical score that borrows as much from Stephen Sondheim as the eras in which it is set, "Grey Gardens" is the perfect chamber musical. Since the show presents such a unique and intimate look into the lives of its two main characters, re-envisioning it as a chamber musical provides an opportunity to heighten those aspects of the score and story that plumb the depths of the Beales. Adding to the intimacy of the Custom Made production, musical director David Brown provides the accompanying piano music and also plays the role of Gould, the Beale's pianist.

"We know that the Beales were a musical family," says Director Stuart Bousel. "It was important to both Edith and Edie to have music in their lives, so the material lends itself well to musical interpretation. By having the entire accompaniment provided by the Beales' real-life pianist (George Gould Strong) - as a historic figure in act one, and as a ghost in act two - we're threading the music deeper into the text." -

Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (1895-1977), often known as "Big Edie," and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale (1917-2002), known as "Little Edie," were the aunt and the first cousin, respectively, of former US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The two women lived together at the Grey Gardens estate, for decades with limited funds in increasing squalor and isolation. The house, located on Long Island, NY in the East Hamptons, was called Grey Gardens because of the color of the dunes, the cement garden walls, and the sea mist.

Throughout the fall of 1971 and into 1972, their living conditions (their house was infested by fleas, inhabited by numerous cats and raccoons, deprived of running water, and filled with garbage and decay) were exposed as the result of an article in the National Enquirer and a cover story in New York Magazine after a series of inspections (which the Beales called "raids") by the Suffolk County Health Department. With the Beale women facing eviction and the razing of their house in the summer of 1972, Jacqueline Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill provided the necessary funds to stabilize and repair the dilapidated house so that it would meet village codes.

Albert and David Maysles became interested in their story and received permission to film a documentary about the women, which was released in 1976 to wide critical acclaim. Their direct cinema technique left the women to tell their own stories. In a 2014 "Sight and Sound" poll, film critics voted "Grey Gardens" one of the best documentaries of all time.

"I think audiences have found the Beale's story compelling because, as Americans, we are always interested in perspectives on the 'American Dream.,'" says Bousel. "In particular, we are fascinated by it when it appears to have failed. Most of us fundamentally think we're going to succeed at the American Dream - optimism has always been a huge part of the American character. So when someone fails at the Dream in such a high-profile way, it's like the proverbial train wreck - we can't look away, and we wonder: could that have been me? That said, I don't think Edith and Edie fail; I think they re-write the American Dream in a way that resonates with us more and more as time goes on.

"By their own assertion, Edith and Edie they're "staunch women", rigid individualists," the director continues. "Their refusal to give up, to be anyone but yourself and to live by your own terms, is also very American, and it's inspiring, particularly in a modern America where the conventional American Dream has become more and more remote for many people. Edith and Edie may have made train wrecks of their lives, lost their fortune and their glamour, but their spirit is undeniably pioneer, resilient, and rebellious, and they are entirely, utterly, uniquely themselves."

"Grey Gardens, the Musical" runs May 22 through June 21 at the Gough Street Playhouse (1620 Gough Street, San Francisco). Learn more and buy tickets at (415) 798-CMTC (2682) or visit www.custommade.org