You’ve heard of Grey Gardens in one way or another. The famed documentary, the HBO movie starring Jessica Lang and Drew Barrymore, or the Broadway musical starring Christine Ebersole. There is an infatuation with The Beales from every theatrical angle. Their documentary would translate to a smash tv series on Bravo or MTV as these real-life characters are fascinating much like “The Osbournes” or “The Real Housewives of…[insert any city here]”.
The Grey Gardens musical follows the story of Big Edie and Little Edie Beale as they fall from aristocratic limelight to their demise from existence living in squalor. Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale is the cousin of American royalty Jacqueline Bouvier (later Bouvier Kennedy Onassis). Her daughter Edie Bouvier Beale is an upstart on the wings of marriage to Joseph Kennedy but her jealous mother, who was recently left by her husband, gets in the way of her daughter’s fortune.
11th Hour Theater Company is well known in Philadelphia for their NEXT STEP Concert Series, a staged reading if you will. Often, they only perform a few nights over a weekend. This year, they have expanding their concert to a full week of viewing entertainment. Having seen several of their concerts, most recently 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Company, I expected another great night at the theatre filled with amazing vocals and storytelling. Sadly, Grey Gardens falls flat.
With a book by Doug Wright (music by Scott Frankel and Lyrics by Michael Korie), the novelty of this piece is that Act 1’s Big Edie is also act 2’s Little Edie. A driving vehicle for any actress. Here, she is played by Lindsie VanWinkle, making her 11th Hour debut. VanWinkle seemed to be struggling throughout the performance. With a script-in-hand production, there are definite leniencies but VanWinkle didn’t allow herself to sink in to the character. Particularly in Act 1 as Big Edie, she appeared more focused on the microphones and music stands then getting the story across. Allowing these distractions to get in her way left her jumping over text, mispronouncing words, and dropping lyrics altogether.
Playing Little Edie in Act 1 was another 11th Hour newcomer, Kristen Devine. She’s a spitting image of Amanda Seyfried but thankfully has a much more beautiful voice. Her love interest, Joseph Patrick Kennedy as played by another newcomer, Sam Krivda, looked like a Kennedy, however his acting was erratic. Larry Lees makes a splash as George Gold Strong, the effervescent drunk companion of Big Edie in the early years. He allowed for much needed comedy. Nichalas L. Parker in a small role as Brooks delights. Charles Gilbert is no stranger to Philadelphia and his portrayal of Major Bouvier (husband to Big Edie, father to Little Edie) makes you crave for more stage time. Act 2’s Big Edie is played by another Philadelphia staple D’Arcy Webb. The ensemble is rounded out by two other new to 11th hour artists, Leah Senseney and Alexandra Voelmle.
Director Steve Pacek introduced this audience to many new faces with Grey Gardens. It’s commendable to take a chance with new talent. It’s refreshing to meet new story-tellers. However, were these new artists not used to the pace of mounting a concert in a short time? Something was amiss, and I can’t put a finger on it. This production lacked the energy and life that every other 11th Hour production I have attended provided its audience. Pacek’s 25th Hour Putnam County Spelling Bee was dynamic, invigorating, and his “music stand choreography” was on pointe. I am left to wonder why Grey Gardens didn’t hit the mark. Perhaps it’s me. Maybe this material just didn’t strike a chord.
Amanda Morton (Music Director) leads a three-piece orchestra with herself on piano, Daniel de Jesus on Violin, and Michael Santa Cruz on drums. Lighting design by Matthew F. Lewandowski II and Sound design by Mark Valenzuela.
Grey Gardens plays until October 14th at The Proscenium Theatre at The Drake. The seating is general admission unless you are a Society 11 member.
All photos by Jenna P. Photography