I had a rare day off today, so I made myself a big steaming bowl of Cream of Wheat (my favorite breakfast), and fired up TiVo to watch the PBS broadcast of the new Grey Gardens documentary, entitled "Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway." Not the original "Grey Gardens," mind you, nor one of the numerous followups ("The Beales of Grey Gardens," "Ghosts of Grey Gardens"), but rather a film of the process of making the "Grey Gardens" documentary into a musical, and ultimately a Broadway show. The film is currently receiving airplay on PBS under the auspices of a program called Independent Lens.
It's really a wonderful film, and I recommend it to anyone who's a fan of the Broadway musical Grey Gardens. (And why wouldn't you be?) The film provides some significant insight into why the show is structured the way it is, as well as where some of the most important and compelling songs from the show saw their genesis.
One particularly compelling segment begins with the sitzprobe for the Broadway run of the show. It starts with Christine Ebersole singing the heartbreaking "Around the World," then intersplices video from the original "Grey Gardens" documentary in which Little Edie is going through her memorabilia, then finally segues into performance footage from the Broadway show. It had me in tears. There was something about watching the inspiration for that lovely song, then seeing it show up in the context of the show, all while the song itself played on the soundtrack, that really placed the tragedy of the story in full relief. It's a sequence that could have been precious or maudlin, but it wound up working stunningly.
Another notable sequence involved modern footage of the original Jerry Torre (the guy who likes the corn), portrayed in the musical by Matt Cavenaugh. Apparently, Jerry is currently driving a cab in New York City, and the film features him showing up in front of the Walter Kerr Theater and looking up at the Grey Gardens logo. The film also shows filmmaker Albert Maysles taking Jerry for a drive out to East Hampton to visit the now refurbished Grey Gardens mansion itself. Jerry describes the formerly squalid house as containing "so much love." He goes on to say "I feel such a part of this house," then finally "I'm here, Mrs. Beale." I'm not usually one for such bald-faced sentiment, but I nevertheless found myself quite moved.
Despite the supposed honesty with which the original documentary handles the story of the Beales, the current film sidesteps some of the drama behind the musical. It never mentions, for instance, that the show wasn't financially successful, nor that it closed after only six months. It also ignores the reported backstage tsouris between the show's veteran stars and neophyte producers. But, hey, it's only an hour long, and there's only so much you can cover in that time. The film stands as more of a testament to the passion of the creators, particularly composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie.
For those of you who simply can't get enough of the Beales, there's more on the horizon. Next on the "Grey Gardens" front will be the feature-length film starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, which is currently scheduled to air on HBO in April of 2009. You can watch the trailer here. Between that film and the new season of "Flight of the Conchords," I may just have to renew my subscription to HBO.