5 things you missed from the opening night of ‘Grey Gardens’ and the after-party with Betty Buckley

By Ellen Olivier
Los Angeles Times
July 14, 2016

Who could have imagined a standing ovation before Wednesday’s opening night performance of “Grey Gardens” at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles?

Yet, the minute Angela Lansbury rose from her seat, following her pre-taped, turn-off-your-cellphone announcement, the audience shot to its feet to applaud the five-time Tony Award winner and star of the TV show “Murder, She Wrote.”

Just like the others in the star-studded audience, the actress came to see director Michael Wilson’s take on the Broadway musical about Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Little Edie Beale, aunt and cousin, respectively, to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The mother-daughter duo lived in a grimy, ramshackle, cat-filled East Hampton mansion, for which the play is named.

Among others lending their applause were Vincent Rodriguez III (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), Jonathan Del Arco (“Major Crimes”), Joely Fisher (“Ellen”), Barrett Foa (“NCIS: Los Angeles”), Jaclyn Smith (“Charlie’s Angels”), Bronson Pinchot (“Perfect Strangers”), Necar Zadegan (“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”), Eric Roberts (“The Dark Knight”), Sharon Lawrence (“Rizzoli & Isles”), Renee Taylor (“The Nanny”), Joseph Bologna (“Big Daddy”) and Michael Sucsy, director of the 2009 HBO film “Grey Gardens,” which starred Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange.

So if you didn’t attend the musical and after-party at Vespaio on Grand Avenue, here are five fun conversations you missed overhearing.

1.) Outside in the theater’s corridor, Rodriguez III called himself  “a ‘Grey Gardens’ virgin,” having never before seen the work. Yet quite familiar with the Ahmanson, the musical theater actor pointed to a fixture on a far wall, saying, “I auditioned underneath that light for the national tour of ‘42nd Street.’”

2.) At the after-party, anticipating Buckley’s arrival, Del Arco said, “I’ve been a fan since I’m 15. I trekked to New York City to see her in ‘Cats’ and then waited at the stage door. She could have been my one-and-only woman.”

3.) After hugs and praises from well-wishers, Buckley settled into a booth at the restaurant, and spoke of her character, saying that while some may disparage Edith’s motives or style, “I think she loved her daughter very much and that they had a very enmeshed, co-dependent relationship.… She was like the original hippie, a Bohemian artist. Her soul was the soul of an artist in a cultural milieu that did not support women becoming artists.”
‘Grey Gardens’ cast members take a bow during the opening night performance of the musical at the Ahmanson Theatre on July 13.
‘Grey Gardens’ cast members take a bow during the opening night performance of the musical at the Ahmanson Theatre on July 13. (Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)

4.) “Both the characters were so precise,” said Rachel York, who plays Edith in Act 1 and Little Edie Beale (32 years later) in Act II. “To delve in[to] their psyches and their idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, that’s what I find so fascinating.”

5.) “I think of ‘Grey Gardens’ as an American story because it deals with our obsessions of wealth, position, class, politics, gender and families, and not just mothers and daughters, but all parents and children,” Wilson said. “The choices that Little Edie has to make are choices all children have to make about their parents, regardless of how dramatic their situation has become.”

Wilson also mentioned: “We didn’t change a note or a word” in this production, emphasizing the 1975 documentary that first brought attention to the two women.

“It was such a catalyst for how they behaved,” Wilson said. “I want the audience to understand that there are cameras, and the ladies are vying to tell their narrative. The documentary really presages reality television. … They always wanted to be stars and finally with that documentary, they’re stars. The musical made them stars all over again.”