Drew Barrymore has received a lot of acclaim for her performance as Little Edie Beale in HBO’s Grey Gardens, but Christine Ebersole was there first. When the show was on the stage, she played a dual role — Little Edie and her mother, Edith Bouvier Beale. Ebersole’s performance arguably made Barrymore’s role possible.
The blond funny woman is also a sublime singer, and will demonstrate both talents at shows in Scottsdale and Tucson this weekend.
“It’s songs from the American Songbook,” she said during a telephone interview from New York, where she did the show at the Carlisle Hotel. “Although there are two songs by Noël Coward, because I just finished a Noël Coward album,” inspired by her performance in his Blithe Spirit on Broadway last year, she said.
“The show is mostly personal stories about my family and my children and my mother, and songs that relate to the stories,” Ebersole said.
She said that she’s passionate about her music and that playing the dual role in Grey Gardens was “like climbing Mount Everest and putting the flag in the summit. It can’t get much better than that. I felt blessed to be part of such a great work of art.” She won the Tony Award for Grey Gardens in 2007 and another in 2001 for her work in 42nd Street.
Ebersole said she isn’t eager to return to Broadway, however, since the eight-shows-a-week grind takes her away from her three teenage children.
Her 1981-82 stint at Saturday Night Live was another kind of challenge. “That was a pretty intense experience. I’d just come off the road playing Guinevere in Camelot opposite Richard Burton and Richard Harris. I mean, it was like going from Earth to Mars. Here it was a 90-minute show that you were putting on live and you had six days to do it. I can’t say I had a lot of confidence, because I didn’t come from the stand-up world. It was definitely a life-changing experience.”
Ebersole has links to the Human Rights Campaign from her website, and she’s opposed to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and supports GLBT marriage rights.
She also supported Ron Paul in the last election, which brought negative feedback from some of her gay fans. She said that Paul, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel were the only candidates on record as opposing DADT.
She recommended the film Coming Out Under Fire. “I don’t know that we can trust the government (to overturn DADT). I think it comes down to complicity. Once people stop complying with rules and laws that are unjust, (the laws) won’t be able to stand,” Ebersole said.
“Now the leaders are saying that they need another year to review it. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry about that. God created us in his image, which is meant to be free. He didn’t create some people better than others. We were all created from the same clump of dirt, so for this racism and sexism and classism to occur, it has to be complied with; these people only have power when you give it to them.”
An Evening with Christine Ebersole will be presented this evening at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. Ebersole will also appear tomorrow night at Tucson's Centennial Hall at the University of Arizona in The Music of Broadway with Cheyenne Jackson and Marin Mazzie.
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.