“Grey Gardens”: the Minnesota Connection

Last week, a production of one of the sharpest and most entertaining Broadway musicals of the past several years went up at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, as co-produced by the Park Square Theatre. It stars a couple of our sharpest and most entertaining musical performers: the operatic Christina Baldwin and the indomitable Wendy Lehr. But among all the reasons to pay attention to the Tony Award-winning Grey Gardens, about the delightfully eccentric aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy Onassis—mother/daughter recluses who went from the top of the social register to somewhere below the charts—one is a direct link between the Twin Cities and the Tony-nominated creative team.

Michael Korie, who co-wrote the show’s book (or lyrics), also happened to be one-half of the New York team commissioned to create the Minnesota Opera’s adventurous production of The Grapes of Wrath. The opera premiered at the Ordway in 2007 and has gone on to performances across the country. I met Korie a couple of times in writing a feature about the creation of Grapes, and found him both cerebral and populist, enthusiastic and skeptical—particularly about the current creative atmosphere on Broadway. He was interested in writing an opea, among other reasons, because opera seemed to allow more for creativity than Broadway.

“The best musicals, the ones we hold up as classics,” he told me a few years ago, “were written like operas.” And though the Tony Awards for Grey Gardens went to the show’s actresses and costume designer, I’ve no doubt that Korie’s smart book has helped put the show on the top shelf of recent Broadway musicals.

Meanwhile, as the Red River rises west of here, the contingency plans for local art museums there have had to be deployed. In particular, the well-regarded Plains Art Museum in Fargo-Moorhead has closed until at least Tuesday and some galleries may be closed until further notice. It had been showing The Art of the Guitar, an exhibition about the luthier renaissance, which features numerous guitars made by well-known Minnesota luthiers, including Charles Hoffman of Minneapolis, who’s been credited with helping start the revival of well-made, handcrafted guitars. Here’s hoping they’re somewhere well away from the rising river.