At the Tony Awards ceremony June 10, Christine Ebersole arguably gave the evening’s best performance, singing “The Revolutionary Costume for Today” from “Grey Gardens.” And she arguably gave the best speech, saying, “I left Hollywood when they told me I was over the hill. And now I’m standing here with this most distinguished award for what I consider to be the role of a lifetime. I’m over the hill in the role of a lifetime!”
Ebersole’s Tony for best actress in a musical was especially well deserved given the part’s dual nature: She played the respected socialite Edith Bouvier Beale in the first act, and then that character’s daughter, the eccentric and sartorially challenged “Little” Edie Beale, in the second act.
As with most stage actresses, Ebersole prefers creating a role to re-creating one.
“With a new show, no one says that she wasn’t as piquant as Julie Andrews,” says Ebersole, which is what one reviewer wrote when Ebersole starred opposite Richard Burton in the 1980 Broadway revival of “Camelot.”
Fortunately, that experience did not prevent Ebersole from performing in other reduxes, including her Tony-winning turn six years ago as a Broadway diva, Dorothy Brock, who sprains her ankle in the revival of “42nd Street,” and “Dinner at Eight,” in which her Millicent Jordan was a lot more piquant, not to mention over-the-top manic, than even Billie Burke’s in the 1933 movie classic.
Ebersole was with “Grey Gardens” almost from the beginning when its creators (Doug Wright, Michael Korie and Scott Frankel) first workshopped it at the Sundance Institute. “I knew I was involved with a great work of art,” she recalls. “That’s what carried us.”
Vocation: “Acting is being and sharing.”
Breakthrough: “In high school, I played the violin in the pit for ‘Finian’s Rainbow,’ and I was so fascinated with what was going on onstage that I missed my cue. It was a defining moment.”
Role model: “Martin Luther King. He was motivated out of love of human kind.”
Career mantra: “‘Be here now.’ That’s useful onstage and off.”
What’s next: “‘Grey Gardens’ in London, that’s our hope… The English love all that royalty gone to seed.”