Something happened last night that made no sense. Something that is going to take me a while to figure out.
I’ve done a ton of theater in my life but I’ve never enjoyed GOING to theater. Especially musicals. It just never works out. EVER!
My wife, however, lives for the theater. She was a professional musical theatre performer who still takes dancing, singing, and improv lessons when she’s not leading 10 people in her corporate job. So, for respite, she will buy Pantages season tickets and go see shows alone because she feels bad dragging me to them. I mean, SO selfless of her, yes, but I do feel guilty sometimes.
Which is why I really had no problem with her coming to me about AHMANSON Theatre season tickets. She very politely asked if I would be interested in joining her for a run of productions and I agreed to do so. One ONE condition: That there would be MUCH wine.
WIFE: One of the shows is the musical based on Grey Gardens.
ME: Grey Gardens?? I love that documentary! I own that one on Criterion.
WIFE: I know and that’s great, but this is a musical based on the Bouvier-Beales.
ME: Huh…? But I HATE musicals.
WIFE: Well…not Jesus Christ Superstar. You like that one. West Side Story?
WIFE: Fine. I’ll just cancel the subscription.
ME: No, no! I’m – grrrrr – I’m in. Let’s do it. What else we got?
WIFE: Well, there’s an Arthur Miller play…there’s Fun Home, which I know you own the graphic novel of and were curious about–
ME: Musical, too, right?
ME: Kill me. EVERYTHING has to become a musical now, I guess. Go on.
WIFE: Another musical based on…uh…
WIFE: A musical based on Amélie, that annoying French film you hated.
ME: WHAT??? Amélie the MUSICAL???? NNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!
Grey Gardens, in case you don’t know, and according to Wikipedia, “is a 1975 American documentary film by Albert and David Maysles. The film depicts the everyday lives of two reclusive, formerly upper class women, a mother and daughter both named Edith Beale, who lived in poverty at Grey Gardens, a derelict mansion at 3 West End Road in the wealthy Georgica Pond neighborhood of East Hampton, New York.”
They were also two women related to Jackie Kennedy-Onassis, who were, by the time the doc was made, living in squalor, in a total mess of a mansion with no plumbing and lots of fleas and cats, as American Royalty exiles.
Grey Gardens: The Musical stars veteran actress Betty Buckley as old Edith Bouvier-Beale and Rachel York – a performer I know nothing about – as BOTH young Edith and, in the second act, her outrageously-eccentric daughter (and virtually-imprisoned mad woman) Edie. This performance…blew…my…face off. Talk about CHANNELING. I don’t understand how someone could be this spot on, not only in mannerisms, voice, and body, but…spirit. I was astounded. It WAS Little Edie from the documentary right up there on stage!
It wasn’t a very large ensemble at all. Mainly the two lead ladies and the rest of the actors in multiple roles. Act 1 takes place in the glorious, hopeful, well-provided for past, while Act 2 takes place in the inevitably bleak and ruinous future. I was so unsure how they were going to pull off the actual Hoarders-like FILTH of Grey Gardens on stage, but the set and art and prop design people did an absolutely extraordinary job. There’s SO much to look at onstage BESIDES the humans.
Best of all…I didn’t mind the songs. Did you read that?? It’s a musical and I didn’t mind the musical numbers! They made sense to me because the two Ediths fancied themselves singer/performers, even though they were total amateurs. So when they broke out in song, I understood WHY. Not to mention the fact that the writers of this thing paid VERY close attention to the source material, the documentary. Like, there’s a whole number based on the elder Edith wooing Jerry the Dimbulb Delivery Boy with her cobs of corn that she boils near her bedside. It’s called “Jerry Likes My Corn” and it’s both super-hilarious and SUPER-sad. Buckley killed that one.
However, NOTHING prepared me for Little Edie’s “Another Winter in a Summer Town” at the end. (It’s so funny. These reference clips from YouTube I’m using here from the original Broadway cast album don’t seem or sound NEARLY as powerful and profound or dark as they did last night with the cast I saw. In fact, they actually sound REALLY musical theatre-y. Which just goes to show, this stuff is meant to be seen live? The emotions tend to range? Different productions just sound…different? I dunno.)
The point is, both my wife and I were blubbering wrecks during the song. Trust me, we both have a coupla pretty crazy-in-their-own-way mothers that we wish we could be more in sync with, so we deeply related. As it is, I also just “celebrated” my 46th birthday this past Monday and it has been a slew of very introspective, where-am-I-going, time-is-running-out, I’ve-got-to-DO-something-with-my-life types of days. Hence the whole theme of “well, here it is, winter again and everyone’s gone and I’m stuck here, rotting away and losing my mind in a town that’s only alive in the summer.” It’s a pretty debilitating metaphor for age and creativity, I think.
WINE PAIRING: The GOOD news is: YOU CAN DRINK INSIDE THE AHMANSON NOW! Oh, yeah, they give you little cups with lids and straws so you can take your wine inside the space while you watch the shows. PERFECT for my deal with Nic on this season subscription. And if you go down to the first-level bar and see Scott, tell him Max sent ya. He’s really cool and wears an EYEPATCH. A legit one, too! He totally set me up with pre-paid beverages that I collected during intermission. Look, he even put a little sign out for me, which I saved!
Hey, I LIKE going to the theatre now!