The Justice Theater Projects season about health care ends with the Broadway musical Grey Gardens, the story of a turbulent relationship evolving into poorly managed elder care. The company has put a lot of effort into its staging, but flaws in the material and production hinder appreciation of the message.
The musical is based on the 1975 documentary about Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, the high society mother and daughter (aunt and cousin, respectively, of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis). They had fallen into poverty-stricken squalor by the early 1970s after Little Edie reluctantly came back home to care for her aging mother.
Composer Scott Frankel and scriptwriter Doug Wrights first act takes place in 1941 when Little Edie is dating Joseph Kennedy Jr. Big Edie squelches their impending marriage, pushing Little Edie to leave home. The act is full of light comedy songs and humorous characters, apparently to parody the fantasy life of the rich.
The darker, more serious second act mostly reproduces the documentarys scenes depicting the pairs mental deterioration and codependency. Unfortunately, the films oddly fascinating random babblings do not make compelling theater, turning the second act into an uninvolving endurance test. The musical missed the chance to show more of what happened between the two acts instead of slavishly recreating much of the film.
The productions first act is charmingly entertaining in director Jerry Sipps confident, clever staging. Jess Barbours perky Little Edie and Eric Morales dapper Joseph Kennedy Jr. are a fine pairing, while Dan Masons booming voice and expert timing make Major Bouvier a delight. Dexter Morgan amuses as the ever-suffering butler, Brooks Sr.
Jeri Lynn Schulke plays the first acts Big Edie with acceptable flair but greatly impresses with her quirky, unstable Little Edie in the second, despite a voice not fully equipped for the scores demands. Alison Lawrence faithfully reproduces the whiny cadences of the second acts Big Edie but rarely varies the characterization.
The amplification system is a major flaw. Both Schulke and Lawrence yell most of their lines, becoming painfully unintelligible, exacerbated by their voices coming disorientingly from speakers behind the audience.
Those familiar with the film will get the most out of the production, able to fill in what is missing or unheard.