In 1975, filmmaking brothers Albert and David Maysles created a documentary focusing on a mother and daughter, who lived a reclusive life at Grey Gardens, a derelict mansion in a wealthy neighbourhood of East Hampton, New York. The pair, both named Edith Beale, were the aunt and first cousin of one of the US’ most revered first ladies, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis.
Grey Gardens told an incredible story that would go on to receive worldwide acclaim. And, in 2006, book writer Doug Wright, composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie conceived of a musical version of the tale, which went on to secure several impressive accolades, including three Tony Awards in 2007.
While Australian audiences have previously had the opportunity to see the musical performed on home soil, the latest staging by Sydney’s Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre represents the premiere season of Grey Gardens in the harbour city.
Jay James-Moody, the show’s director and company artistic director, has long been a fan of the Beales’ story. ““It’s a show that I immediately fell in love with from the first time I heard it,” he tells Theatre People.
“These women…100% owned their lifestyle. They were never embarrassed by the way they lived, and they never apologised for it. I think there’s a lovely message in there.
“It’s also a very interesting exploration of a mother and daughter relationship, and how that can evolve…It’s just so fascinating.”
A fan of both the musical and the Maysles’ film, James-Moody is highly complimentary of the original creative team’s work in making the documentary work in a live theatre setting. “The guys who’ve done the adaptation have done such a brilliant job of taking the spirit of the documentary and making it a beautiful narrative.
“It’s kind of up there, I feel, with some of the greatest American plays. It really is like Tim Burton meets Tennessee Williams…”
For some time now, Grey Gardens has been on the list of shows the Squabbalogic team has wanted to bring to its audiences, according to James-Moody. “We’ve been trying to put this on for a number of years. We’ve had a few false starts, where we got really close, but for a variety of reasons, we switched shows at the last minute,” he says.
But in 2015, everything has clicked into place and Grey Gardens will finally make its Seymour Centre debut. “To be able to do it with this particular group of people is fantastic…[The actors] are at the top of their game and the perfect people to bring these characters back to life,” James-Moody says.
And how have rehearsals progressed to date? “Really, really well! It’s been a very smooth and swift process so far,” he shares with Theatre People. “We have to work fast anyway, but everything is falling into place.
“There’s some sensational stuff coming from the actors. Starting at such a great level, I can’t wait to see how it develops over the next couple of weeks.”
Founded in 2006, Squabbalogic has as a central aim bringing work to its audiences that often goes neglected by commercial theatre. The company recently announced its 2016 season, which encompasses everything from a brand new original work through to Grease in its original theatrical form. “We try and make our programming really eclectic,” James-Moody says.
“We try and make each show really different to the one that’s come before it, but I think that this is definitely our most diverse programme.
“We don’t rest on our laurels. We create new challenges for ourselves each season and with each project.”
So why should theatregoers rush to the Seymour Centre box office and ensure they’ve secured their tickets for Grey Gardens’ Sydney premiere? James-Moody responds: “To see some of the most unique characters ever to appear on stage [and] to hear beautiful musical – the score is just wonderful.
“But I think, first and foremost, to be able to sit within a few metres of some of the most underrated and lesser known actors in Sydney, getting their hooks into some incredible characters…in a really intimate setting. It’s not the sort of musical experience you’re likely to get anywhere else.”
Dates: 18th November to 12th December, 2015
Times: Tues – Fri 7:30pm, Sat 2pm & 7:30pm
Previews: 18th & 19th November, 2015
Opening Night: 20th November, 2015
Tickets: $59 / Concession $42 / Previews $42 / Under 30 and students $30 Tues & Wed / Thursday Date Night 2 x tickets for $90 / Group (6) $52
In Conversation with the Cast and Crew Q&A: Following the 2pm performance on Saturday, December 5th
For more information or bookings, visit www.seymourcentre.com or phone the Seymour Centre Box Office on (02) 9351 7940.