Christine Ebersole has shown she can play several characters at a time. She won a Tony Award for best actress in 2007 for playing both Big Edie and Little Edie in “Grey Gardens,” the musical look at the lives of the Bouvier Beale mother and daughter, who lived in East Hampton.
Now, Ms. Ebersole will be appearing at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor on Saturday in “Love, Noel: The Letters and Songs of Noel Coward” with Edward Hibbert as Mr. Coward and Ms. Ebersole as, well, everyone else.
Ms. Ebersole also won a Tony Award in the 2001 revival of “42nd Street,” and has a long list of Broadway and television shows to her credit, along with film roles.
Early in the 1980s, Ms. Ebersole found herself part of the cast of “Saturday Night Live,” doing “Weekend Update” with Brian Doyle Murray, and portraying everyone from Barbara Mandrell to Princess Diana. “It was super fast-paced,” said Ms. Ebersole, “and my confidence level wasn’t really that high.” She had just come off a road tour with Sir Richard Burton, portraying Guinevere, and discovered that live comedy TV was a different animal altogether.
“The musical parodies were where I felt most comfortable,” she said. “When I was singing, I felt most at home.”
“Love, Noel: The Letters and Songs of Noel Coward” was devised and written by Barry Day, and interweaves the music of Coward and letters between him and his famous friends (newly collected in the critically acclaimed book, “The Letters of Noel Coward,” edited by Mr. Day, who was awarded an Order of the British Empire in 2007).
According to Ms. Ebersole, when she was performing recently on Broadway in a revival of Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” the director, Michael Blakemore, approached her about providing music snippets from other Coward songs for scene changes. “Just 45 seconds of song, to inform the audience about an upcoming scene,” said Ms. Ebersole. She tapped Larry Yurman, the musical director and conductor of “Grey Gardens,” and together they gave Mr. Blakemore what he was looking for.
“It had a kind of a Gertie Lawrence vibe to it,” she said, referring to Gertrude Lawrence, the British actress and musical comedy performer whose life intertwined with Coward’s both professionally and personally. “It wasn’t announced in the program, so the audience wasn’t sure who was performing,” said Ms. Ebersole. The pairing with Mr. Yurman led to a CD, “Christine Ebersole Sings Noel Coward.”
The CD reached the ears of Sean Malone, president of Ten Chimneys, a National Historic Landmark in Wisconsin, and the vacation retreat of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The Lunt-Fontanne pair, known as one of the greatest actor-actress couples to tread the Broadway boards, were frequent hosts to others in show business, including Helen Hayes, Laurence Olivier, and Mr. Coward, who wrote the classic “Design for Living,” specifically for Mr. Lunt and Ms. Fontanne.
“It’s an amazing place,” said Ms. Ebersole.
Mr. Malone requested that she perform a selection of Mr. Coward’s music at the Ten Chimneys Foundation, and Ms. Ebersole was “knocked out” by the place. “It’s completely restored, and used for concerts,” she said. “But all the personal effects are still there. You’re sitting on the same sofa Noel Coward sat on.”
Although she had produced a CD, when it came to performing Mr. Coward’s music live, “there had to be a more well-rounded way of presenting it,” she said. “You couldn’t just say, ‘And here’s another song. . . .’ ”
She spoke with Mr. Day, who was working on a performance piece with many parts, “and we asked if he could pare it down to a two-hander,” a piece for two actors, Ms. Ebersole said. And so a show was born.
Mr. Hibbert and Ms. Ebersole performed “Love, Noel” in April at Ten Chimneys to an appreciative audience.
When asked about “Grey Gardens,” Ms. Ebersole confessed, way before she was asked to do the show, to watching the film over and over again while living in Los Angeles. “I became obsessed with it,” she said, “never thinking for even one moment, ‘Wow! This would make a great musical!’ ”
“It was amazing, the psychology, trying to understand what makes them tick,” she said of playing the dual roles of the two Edies. “It was an endless source of fascination for me. And they’re not the only ones,” she said, referring to the mother-daughter co-dependent relationship of the Bouvier Beales.
“The difference is, when you’re poor and you live like that, people call you crazy,” she said. “When you’re rich, you’re eccentric.”
“Love, Noel” will begin at 8 p.m. on Saturday.