How Christine Ebersole Almost Had an '11 O'Clock Poem' in Grey Gardens

Seth Rudetsky   How Christine Ebersole Almost Had an '11 O'Clock Poem' in Grey Gardens
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from Sutton Foster, Galt MacDermot, and how Grey Gardens' "Another Winter in a Summer Town" started life without music.
Christine Ebersole and Seth Rudetsky
Christine Ebersole and Seth Rudetsky

The great Galt MacDermot has passed away. I loved his music so much! The very first Broadway show I ever saw was Hair and I put together the Actors Fund concert in 2003. I did his The Human Comedy with Heather MacRae at the York and loved seeing Two Gentlemen of Verona with Norm Lewis and Rene Elise Goldsberry in Central Park. But Hair is one of those rare Broadway shows where every single song is fantastic! He told me so many great stories about putting the show together and here’s one of my favorites: It was when Hair was playing Off-Broadway and planned to move to Broadway. Galt was doing a recording session and became obsessed with the voice one of the singers, Melba Moore. He decided on the spot to put her in the show. He approached her and asked, “How would you like to do Hair on Broadway?” She glared and said, “I didn’t go to four years of music to do anybody’s hair on Broadway!” Of course, she wound up singing “White Boys” and then taking over the leading role of Sheila. (P.S. This was groundbreaking, because unlike the Pearl Bailey Hello, Dolly when the whole cast became African American, they simply replaced a white woman with Melba and didn’t change anything else.) I have so many deconstructions of that score, but here is one of my favorites (and a second one for good measure).

Home, sweet home! I’ve been a-travelling but now I’m back in NY for a nice long stretch! First, I was at the Scottsdale Performing Arts Center with Sutton Foster and we had a great time! Turns out, she had tried out for the role of Eponine in Les Misérables a lot in the '90s but she was always “too tall.” They had a specific look for that role based on the (amazing) original Frances Ruffell,e and they wouldn’t waver. However, they started changing things up in the late '90s and she finally got the role and to live the childhood dream she’d had while listening to the original recording. It really was a dream come true except: She told us about her death scene where little acting was needed to appear devastated and deathly. There was an understudy Marius on and, during “A Little Fall of Rain” when he was clutching and pulling at her Eponine blouse to implore her to live, he was not only clutching/pulling her Eponine blouse, but he was also clutching/pulling her boob! Somehow, he couldn’t tell that he had fabric and actual flesh in his fist throughout the song. Not only was Eponine dying, Sutton also felt like she was dying. In honor of her almost-boobless Eponine, here’s a video of me playing “On My Own” for her in our New Orleans show back in 2013.

Speaking of New Orleans, I flew there from Scottsdale the next day to do a show with Christine Ebersole. Scott Frankel, who wrote Grey Gardens and War Paint, happened to be in town, too, so I insisted he join us onstage and play [the hard stuff]. Here’s the sound check for one of the gorgeous songs from Grey Gardens.

Scott was the impetus for turning Grey Gardens into a musical and he always wanted Christine to play Little Edie. He knew she had an extremely versatile voice so he’d be able to write a score with an enormous range. I asked if he was concerned that he was making the music too difficult for someone else to play the role, and he said he would have never compromised writing to everything Christine could do because “when you have a Maserati, you want it go full out!” They first started working on the show in a writer’s lab in Florida. All the songs in the show weren’t finished when it was presented, but Scott had written a lot of music to Michael Korie’s lyrics. Right before they presented it, Michael wrote some amazing lyrics for an 11 o’clock number in which Little Edie tries to leave East Hampton where she feels imprisoned, but she cannot.

Scott felt that he needed time to write the music to the song and didn’t want to rush it. So, for the presentation, Christine simply read the lyrics, almost like a poem. Well, the lyrics are so great and Christine is such a great actor that people started saying to Scott, “You know what? Maybe it doesn’t need music…maybe she should just recite those words at that moment in the show.” Scott said he was like, “Are you f***ing crazy? I am going to write an 11 o’clock number! Have you ever heard of an 11 o’clock poem?!” End of story: He wound up setting it to music and it is a stunning song.

War_Paint_Broadway_Production_Photo_2017_[0448]_Patti LuPone in WAR PAINT, Photo by Joan Marcus, 2017_HR.jpg
Patti LuPone Joan Marcus

Scott also talked about writing War Paint and how amazing it was to write for two of his idols. When he was a teenager in Cleveland he stormed out of his house telling his parents that was going to New York to see Patti LuPone in Evita and there was nothing they could do to stop him! He was so insistent that they actually paid for his plane ticket and front row mezzanine seats! I asked him if he was nervous writing so much difficult music for these women to sing eight times a week and he said that at one point while the show was being written, Patti actually told him that she wanted to sing “higher and louder” more often. Yes! My kind of show! Here are both Patti and Christine recording the cast album.

It was very cool for me when Scott played his own compositions for Christine because I got to watch Christine, which I normally can’t do when we’re performing together. I kept thinking, “I’m so lucky that I get to see a Broadway legend perform live right in front of me!” And you can too, because Christine and I are going to be doing two shows in Boston on Saturday, January 26.

Speaking of Broadway stars up close, I began the week doing a fund raiser for Beth Simchat Torah, NY’s LGBT synagogue. Holy cow. The singing was so exceptional! You can watch the whole concert right here and you are going to flip out. Just some of the highlights include Lillias White doing “I Am Changing” from Dreamgirls, Tony Yazbeck singing and dancing up a storm to “Cheek To Cheek,” Beth Malone’s hilarious and high belting “Lesbian Love Story,” and Andrea Burns’ amazing Googie Gomez medley from The Ritz that I put together with Chris Gattelli and Joe Mantello. So hilarious!

And then there was the heroine worship of Liz Callaway; Andrea Burns, Beth Malone and I were all obsessed with Liz Callaway when she first came on the scene in the '80s. We had all listened to the cast album of Baby over and over again. Well, to be more specific, Beth listened to the original cast cassette and told us she played it so much that it eventually stretched out and literally stopped working! When Beth and Andrea heard the Liz was going to sing her classic end-of-act-one song “The Story Goes On,” they were giddy. Right before Liz sang, Andrea and Beth left the seats where the singers were seated, and went into the audience so they could really watch. Andrea told me afterwards that they were so connected to how Liz sings the song that they were both breathing in unison where Liz takes her breaths!

James and I have been lucky to have heard Liz sing the song live in many events but it must have meant something extra special to Liz to have two super-fans in the audience because James thinks it’s the best he’s ever heard her sing it! You have to watch!

Today, December 17 is a big day in our house; four years ago we went to Animal Care Center and met Mandy! James had seen her picture on their amazing app (which you have to download….It’s like Match.com for animals!) and sent it to me. He was very depressed because we had just lost our sweet dog Scooby a few days before. We went to the shelter and met Mandy, who was very reserved in the hallway, with her tail between her legs. The woman from the shelter suggested we take her in a private room. Well, that’s all it took. She started running up to all of us…jumping up and licking our faces (see photo)! We took her home that night and she’s made us so happy ever since! If you are considering adopting, do it! It’s so worth it! And if you can, the shelters can always use a foster parent as well. Peace out and happy holidays!

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