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Tony Nominee: Scott Frankel (w/ Matt Cavenaugh & Erin Davie)

When Grey Gardens transferred to Broadway, the cast album had already been recorded for the Off-Broadway production. However, the authrs wrote three new songs that don't appear on that recording. Scott Frankel came by the Broadway Bullet studio along with actors, Matt Cavenaugh and Erin Davie to chat about the show, and sing the new songs... and Broadway Bullet is the only place you can hear them... other than live every night at the Walter Kerr, that is.

You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 101. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

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Broadway Bullet Exclusive: Grey Gardens Interview and New Songs

 

Broadway Bullet: I'm sitting here, in the studio with three of the people involved with Grey Gardens, Scott Frankel, the composer; and two of the stars, Erin Davie and Matt Cavenaugh. How are you doing today?

All: Great, How are you?

BB: What's been keeping you busy since the New Year?

Scott: Well, these guys have eight shows a week to do; and I went to Argentina. But it's really nice to know that the show is being performed so beautifully on stage at the Walter Kerr, when I can go off traveling the world! It's very reassuring to me.

BB: I'm sure a lot of our listeners are familiar with the show, but kind of as a brief summary for those of us who may not have heard about the show yet, what's the quick elevator pitch on what the show's about?

Scott: Sure, the "Reader's Digest" version is that it is called Grey Gardens, it's a musical based on a 1975 documentary, and it tells the story of an elderly mother and her adult daughter – they're both named 'Edith'. They live together in a decaying mansion in East Hampton. And the most interesting parts of their lives – in a way – is that they are first cousin and aunt of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. And the house was condemned by the Suffer County Board of Health, and it became a scandal; and it was brought to the attention of the filmmakers, and they got to go inside the house and film this incredibly fascinating, and very unusual mother-daughter story.

BB: My toes are tapping already

Scott: Yay!

BB: Now, I understand that this was actually your idea from the beginning, Scott.

Scott: It sure was.

BB: So, what inspired you to think of this as a musical?

Scott: Well, for those people who don't know the documentary –

Matt: Money!

Scott: Well besides the money, Matt… You have the mother and the daughter in the documentary, for those who haven't seen it, they are both kind of stage struck. The mother was a soprano in her youth, and she loved to sing songs in her parlor in East Hampton. And the daughter fancied herself a kind of great dancer. So the fact that they love American, popular music and sing and dance around the house. I thought, "Hmm, that part sounds like a musical. Singing, dancing". And even though they were living in trash strewn beds, and eating cat food and calling it pâté, I still thought that, that musical motor – that engine – would be something you could build a show around.

BB: Matt, you've been involved with the show since its inception at the Playwright's Horizon, or has it been earlier than that?

Matt: Actually, yeah, earlier than that. I got a call in November of 2004 to go down to Sundance Theatre Lab in December of 2004, and that's where I first met Scott, and started to work on it. At that time there was just a first act, which was pretty much intact, as what you see at the Kerr every night; but the second act there really wasn't anything.

Scott: Yeah, Sundance has a very famous film festival, obviously, but they also have a theater lab where they develop musicals like Grey Gardens and like Spring Awakening too. So they've actually had a pretty good track record this season. But we got to work with a lot of our same actors and kind of develop the show around them. And that was kind of an unbelievable opportunity.

BB: Now Erin, you came in with the Broadway premiere of the show, and had to craft an intricate performance, kind of based on what Christine Ebersole was doing in the second act, as she plays your character, "Little Edie" in the second act.

Erin: Right.

BB: So, what was that like, having to come in and kind of craft that around what had already been a very noted performance.

Erin: I actually have to say that I crafted it more from the documentary, because in my very early rehearsals, Christine wasn't always there and when she was we were working on first act stuff, because we didn't really have time to work on something she already had down. You know, so I started mainly with the movie and I took it off Edie on film.

Scott: For your listeners who don't know, what we've done is we've imagined a first act that takes place in 1941. In the first act, Christine Ebersole plays the mother, "Big Edith", and Erin plays her daughter, "Little Edie". And then after intermission, we jump forward – flash forward to the 70s, and the house is in decay, and Christine switches roles, and then becomes the daughter, an adult version of Erin. And Mary Louise Wilson comes out and plays her mother. It sounds complicated, but it seems to be working nicely.

Erin: Right.

BB: Well we've got a special treat, while we're doing this interview. I understand that you're also going to be performing three of the songs here, live in the studio; and Scott, you're going to be playing the piano for them.

Scott: Well, Hell yeah!

BB: And these are songs, not from the Off-Broadway cast recording, but new for the show?

Scott: Yeah, the show ran Off-Broadway at Playwright's Horizons in the spring of last year, and we had a very successful run. It was extended three times, but between the time we closed and the time we reopened on Broadway, we got a chance to really revisit some areas of the show that might not have been working as we would have liked. So as a result, there are a lot of new songs, and new cast members and new dialogue in the Broadway version. And you are going to hear some of that today.

BB: Why don't we start off with Erin performing one of the numbers. Do you want to tell us a little about this?

Scott: Yes, this actually is one of the new songs. It's called "The Girl Who Had Everything" and it sets up a little bit about that it is the story of a young girl – a young debutant – having an engagement party on a beautiful summer afternoon in 1941 in East Hampton. And she is literally "The Girl Who Has Everything"

Listen to "The Girl Who Has Everything" on Broadway Bullet, vol. 101

 

Matt: Well, actually the song you heard at Playwright's was actually not even the first song. There was a different song at Sundance. And I've been told that there were several other versions that even I didn't even hear. So, I figure it might have been the fifth song in the slot…

Scott: Yeah, we keep trying to rewrite that moment, to get it right, to feel like we've got it!

Matt: You know, I don't miss it, I loved "Better Have a lot of Love" I think it was a great tune, very much. I think of it as a Rodgers and Hart and Hammerstein, and it was a lot of fun; but as Scott says, this new one, "Goin' Places" kicks and I agree. It really fits in our show.

Scott: You know, a lot of our rewrites concerned the story of "Little Edie", who is played by Erin, and it's her engagement party. And she was engaged to Joseph Kennedy Jr.. Who was the elder son of Joe Kennedy Sr. and the older brother of John Kennedy, and he was killed several years later in the war. We are in 1941, and they are very much in love, and engaged. And as the act progresses, you see that their engagement has a lot of bumps in the road. But this moment,

Matt: I don't think it's going to sell well.

Scott: Yes, but you have to pay your money. See, I'm coming back to money, Matt brought up money. I was going to talk about art, but he started talking about money. If you insist on making me talk about money, then you'll have to come to the Walter Kerr and buy your ticket and find out how it all works out. The song you're going to hear now is called "Goin' Places". It's an energetic, aggressive dance number that shows how ambitious Joe Kennedy Jr. is. How he's really a political dynamo, and the favored prince of the Kennedy dynasty. He was being groomed for the presidency, and he wants Edie to come along with him. And they are "Goin' Places" together.

Listen to "Goin' Places" in Broadway Bullet Vol. 101

 

Scott: Some people have said that to me, that there's a song that Christine sings at the end of the first act called "Will You?", and they're like "it sounds like – did you write that?" "It sounds like it's from the forties". And I actually take that as a great compliment.

BB: I mean it that way too.

Scott: I really try to, I mean, I love Gershwin and Rogers and Hart and Cole Porter, and Kern, and those are the great songs and standards from the American songbook. And I really tried to let all of that was over me, and then kind of filter through me, and whatever came out I was going to call my 'New Standards' for the period of Act 1. But it was an incredible opportunity, as you said, to write in two different styles. Because Act 2, you see visually the house has gone to shambles, the ladies have gone to shambles, and the music too also goes to – well I don't want to say it goes to shambles – but it goes to a darker area; weirder and odder places. In the second act there's a song called "Jerry Likes my Corn". I mean, not many musicals can have music called "Jerry Likes my Corn". So you see, it gets weirder, but the first act is very much in the period of the forties. You look onstage at William Ivey Long's costumes and Matt and Erin are looking very period; and we really feel like we're in a gorgeous drawing room in 1941.

BB: Now, is either one of those styles particularly more natural to you, or are you kind of schizophrenic yourself as a composer and like going all the different places?

Scott: You know, I always used to worry about you know 'is it original? Is it derivative? Is it pastiche? Does it sound like someone else?' And for this show, I really tried to turn the volume down on all of those questions and just really tried to write for character and write for the specific situation at had. So I really kind of put my hands on the Ouija board and wherever it took me, that's where I went.

BB: Now between, as we've been getting ready I've been hearing a lot of great stories out of you. Between the three of you, do you have any funny backstage antic stories?

Scott: Yeah you guys, tell me what happens when I'm in Argentina? I get these email reports from the stage manager saying "Very nice show tonight, great audience" But I want to know what's really happening backstage. Are Christine and Mary Louise fighting? Are they evil? Are there diva catfights?

Matt: Well there aren't 'diva catfights', I'm a favorite of Mary Louise when she has – Mary Louise, God bless her, but sometimes she blows up and it's quite funny. What's great is she loves it too, and we all get to celebrate.

Scott: Well that's good. I wouldn't want it to be too perfect every night.

Matt: No

Scott: It is live after all.

Matt: It is live theater.

Scott: It is live. And Erin, what's it like for you backstage? This is Erin's Broadway debut, I'm happy to report.

Erin: It's very uneventful I think. We don't have enough cast members for there to be drama.

Matt: Yeah, there aren't many cast members.

Erin: My favorite thing is watching Christine play "Just Excitement Is" that's the excitement backstage, Christine's Laugh.

Scott: Christine Ebersole, our leading lady, in addition to being a brilliant performer is also a very colorful person, and she has about 875 animals, 413 children, a husband, a partridge, and a pear tree. And there's all sorts of stuff, in addition to doing an incredibly difficult part on Broadway eight times a week. So her life is filled with drama and hyjinx.

BB: Well hopefully we can get her on later on to talk about some of those hyjinx too. But Erin, this is your Broadway debut here –

Scott: Yay!

BB: Where are you originally from?

Erin: Nashville, Tennessee.

BB: Nashville. So did you think you'd ever end up playing some northeastern high brow character as your Broadway debut?

Erin: No! No I didn't. I don't know what I thought I would do. I wanted to do theater, but I certainly – I don't even know if I dreamed this big or this cool! This show is so cool! It's so new and interesting and different.

Scott: I mean, there is something, I would imagine, for performers it's great to do revivals and great to do the great parts in the cannon of American musicals; but I think that it would be a very cool thing too, actually being the first person to play a part ever. And to know that everyone else down the road, that you have originated that role. Yes?

Erin: Yes! It's so very cool!

Scott: Yay! Yay!

Matt: It's more than cool! I mean, we were talking a little bit earlier, and Erin I think I've said this to you, but Erin's a godsend. She is great. And she talked about modeling her performance on Christine or the documentary, but I know as an outside actor watching her and how her performance continues to evolve, and shape. You know, she'll watch, in the second act, what Christine is doing. Then I'll see it onstage and show up a week later and when we're doing stuff for the first act, I'm so happy.

Erin: Yeah, it's true. I have grown a lot; a lot of people say that to me.

Matt: You have, and you're incredible. It's kind of a backhanded compliment.

Erin: It is, but you know what I agree so it's fine.

Scott: You know Erin, in addition to having a splendid voice, is a very sharp actress. And clearly is a very good observer and listener; and that's, they always say that's what it takes to be a good actor, to be a good listener. And I think that we are very thrilled to have her as part of the company, and she certainly hit the ground running. Because many of us have, our other cast members, have been with the show since its earlier incarnations. But it's a happy family now; it's an extraordinary company of performers. It's all, they're all soloists in their own right. It's a piece of soloists.

BB: Off topic a little bit, Erin and Matt, were you completely devastated that you were tied up and not able to go out for "You're the one that I Want"?

Matt: I was, but I'm Tivo-ing it every Sunday so I'm catching it.

BB: Because you could have been Danny and Sandy.

Matt: You know what I do think? Actually having watched it?

Erin: I'd never want to do that.

Matt: As I watch it every Sunday I think, "Man, why didn't I come up with some alter ego and just go in there and act like a jackass?" You know, hoping that I could get on one of those first few episodes. That's what I'd want to do.

Scott: That would actually be really funny idea. For like some sort of Broadway fights AIDS Equity function and you guys would be dressed up as Danny and Sandy.

Matt: Yeah.

Scott: Well, young lovers everywhere. In the forties, and the sixties and the seventies and the fifties, whatever, that would be cool. You would be dressed up in your Fonz, "Greased Lightning" look.

Matt/Erin: That's fun, let's do it!

Erin: As long as I really don't have to do it, I'm good.

BB: And Matt, I don't think that many of our listeners would guess that you are also from the south, originally.

Matt: I am, I am a hick from Arkansas.

BB: So did you pick up a lot of this voice from your character?

Matt: Sure, yeah.

BB: Because I can't imagine this is the sound –

Matt: No, well I've been removed from home for about ten plus years. I went to college upstate. But I listened to a lot of Kennedy, a lot of the dad, and of course a lot of John Kennedy, and worked with a dialect coach a lot. But I think I was telling you earlier, someone told me the other day that he thought I sounded like Katherine Hepburn. Which I've never been told before, but he thought I sounded like Katherine Hepburn talked.

Scott: I don't think that Grease and Katherine Hepburn have ever been mentioned in such close proximity before. And I can only thank God that Ms. Hepburn is not on the planet and have to endure that. Jesus! Although, she would be terrific as the principal.

Matt: Oh, she would!

Scott: What was it, the Eve Arden part of the movie? She could be –

Matt: Ms. Lynch

Scott: She was unavailable, but she would've been terrific.

BB: I think we're also looking here, that there's only one other person, besides Christine Ebersole, who really does a dual character, and that's Matt here. So do you have a lot of fun when you get into your role in the second act?

Matt: Oh sure, yeah. You know when I got the call to come down to Sundance for this thing, I was like, "Oh cool, I'm playing Kennedy. That sounds great, I'll do it!" But I really didn't know that I'd also be playing Jerry; nor did I know who Jerry was. It wasn't till I watched the documentary and got a sense, and got to know him. We can call him later, he's a very sweet man, he's in the city.

Scott: Yeah, Matt in the first act, in the forties, plays Kennedy, as he said. But in the second act he plays a guy named Jerry. And Jerry was a teenager who helped the ladies in East Hampton in the seventies when their house was in such extreme disrepair. And he came in and tried to help them pass code, and they developed a very strong affection for each other. A kind of mother and sister surrogate relationship. But also sometimes a jilted suitor. So I think that particularly, considering Matt plays someone who is in love with Little Edie in the first act.

BB: I was actually just going to get there. I was just going to say, is this just economics casting the same actor, or is there a symbolic connection in mind?

Scott: No, there's very much; because in the second act, he becomes someone that the women can argue over and fight for his affections and his attention. It's done very intentionally.

Matt: Yeah, and I love playing Kennedy, but I love going out there and playing Jerry. I mean, he's someone that's very different from who I have played before; and very different from Joe.

Scott: And you get to wear a cool wig.

Matt: I get to wear a fabulous wig. And I get to be onstage with both Christine and Mary Louise, and it's just beautiful.

Scott: It's a kind of "Leonard Skinner" kid working at a convenience store. Like that kind of look. And maybe he likes certain kinds of herbal remedies.

Matt: Perhaps. It's been rumored.

Scott: Perhaps.

BB: Why don't we get into hear, before we finish up with the interview, the last of the original songs you're going to play for us. Do you want to set this one up a little bit for us?

Scott: Sure, this is called "Daddy's Girl" it's towards the end of the first act. And we begin to see real chinks in the armor, and things are not going as planned with the engagement between Joe and Edie.

Matt: Are you giving it away?

Scott: No, I'm just teasing them. And Edie is very hopeful that once her father, Mr. Beale, arrives that he'll be able to set everything right and get everything back on course. So this is "Daddy's Girl".

Listen to "Daddy's Girl" in Broadway Bullet Vol. 101


BB: Grey Gardens as a musical, which is only fitting because of how cultish the documentary's been, seems to be a show that has a lot of people – with very strong feelings – probably both ways. I'd love to hear from the fans, you know, what have been your favorite responses from the people who are really passionately into the show?

Scott: Are you guys greeted by rabid fans at the stage door, while I was in Argentina?

Matt: Jerry came to the show Sunday actually.

Erin: Yeah, it was very cool. It was really surprising to me, you know? I felt like I already knew him, he felt like family, he's just such a sweet man.

Matt: He's so affectionate too. He loves people, he's really nice.

BB: Do people ever come dressed up? Because Little Edie was such a fashion icon. Do people actually come dressed in snoods?

Matt: They do

BB: The parkas and all?

Matt: Not often, but they do. You know the first few performances.

Scott: You know when we were at Playwright's Horizons too, I saw this group of women in their 50s and 60s – from Seattle, Washington and had flown in- and they were all wearing their revolutionary costumes. This was very cool, because you know, there are a lot of drag queens who dress up as Edie, so that's something I would've expected more. But actual, biological women, of a certain age, coming in and from Seattle no less. Well that was very cool. But yeah it is a movie that has been a kind of underground cult classic for many years, but it's starting to trickle down into the main stream. I do think, though, that our audiences now by and large haven't seen the documentary.

Matt: Yeah

Scott: And yet they are still responding to the story, where they're able to focus on the mother-daughter relationship. It's an entertaining story.

Matt: Yeah, Scott and the rest of the creative team did a great job of writing a show that you didn't have to be 'in'. You didn't have to know the documentary. I have people tell me all the time now, "Oh, I've never seen it, but I've got to go rent it!"

Scott: Yeah, I don't believe that these people should have to do homework to go to the theater. My God, it's a lot to ask. But I think you do have a different experience if you've seen it; but it doesn't mean you have any less of an experience if you haven't, it's just different.

Erin: We've probably done wonders for the DVD sales, though.

Matt: Oh yeah.

Scott: Must we talk about money?

Erin: Back to money.

BB: Well, I definitely want to thank the three of you for taking the time to come down to the studio. And thank you for this wonderful performance and interview. And obviously Christine Ebersole is getting tons of, like everyone's saying she's already won the Tony; but I think there are three people sitting in the room right now who are very strong candidates, you know, coming up for the Tony's. I wish everyone here the best of luck.

All: Thank you, thank you Michael.

 

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You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 101. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

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