By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Grey Gardens opened off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons on March 7, 2006. Despite mixed reviews, it sold out its entire limited engagement plus three extensions and garnered numerous awards. For the move to Broadway, Wright and his team had three months to revamp the show. "We cut five songs and rewrote almost the entire first act," Wright says. "We made significant changes to address what the critics had said."
The result is a thrilling evening of theater. Everything works. The songs are memorable and add to the story. The acting and singing, particularly of Ebersole in dual roles, is phenomenal. It's what Broadway—filled with revivals and musicals based on movies and television—needs now. It's entertaining, funny, thought-provoking, a bit perverse and ultimately tragic.
The reviews reflected the critics' agreement. From Variety: "In less adventurous hands, Grey Gardens might merely have been a quirky musical about crazy cat ladies...But Wright and his collaborators...have taken their cue from the Maysles brothers in portraying their multifaceted subjects with depth and dignity. Their show is a haunting account of lives derailed, a textured depiction of the warring, often simultaneous desires to wound and heal that characterize mother-daughter relationships, and a witty celebration of two defiantly maverick personalities." The trade paper called Ebersole's performance "staggering...sure to become a benchmark of musical theater excellence." Newsday called it "daft, dark and deliciously derelict." Even Ben Brantley of the Times gave it a thumbs-up. Wright was ecstatic.
His move to more mainstream theater has been reflected in his domestic life. On opening night, he was surrounded by his family from Dallas and the family of his partner, David. They've lived together three years and recently signed a domestic partner commitment.
Wright has two new projects: the screenplay for a remake of Bunny Lake Is Missing, with Reese Witherspoon, and writing the book for Disney's The Little Mermaid, which will open on Broadway almost exactly a year after Grey Gardens. A guaranteed money machine, Mermaid could give the playwright something all settled couples long for: financial security.
"It's huge but scary," Wright says. Besides, he jokes, Ursula the Sea Witch could give the Marquis de Sade a run for his money.