Richard and I saw this new musical at the Public Theater on 11/14. The music, lyrics, and book are by Michael John LaChiusa, who Richard met in summer stock in rural Pennsylvania back in early 80s. I don't think I'd seen a show of his before. He wrote a musical in 1993 called *First Lady Suite* - - four scenes, about Eleanor Roosevelt, Mamie Eisenhower, Bess Truman, and Jackie Kennedy. He decided to do a follow-up show, *First Daughter Suite*. Here are the four scenes:
Tricia Nixon's wedding, 1972: Pat Nixon and her daughters Tricia and Julie Eisenhower Nixon. And Richard Nixon's Quaker mother appears as a ghost, criticizing Pat.
A dream by Amy Carter, 1980: Amy and Rosalynn Carter and Susan and Betty Ford. Amy idolizes Susan, thinks she's the coolest first daughter ever to live in the White House. Susan convinces Amy that the only way she can be cool and get her father reelected is if they sail the Presidential yacht to Iran and free the hostages.
Nancy Reagan and Patti Davis, lounging by the pool at Betsy Bloomingdale's, 1986. A maid also appears in this scene (it seemed a little funny to include this one character who wasn't the daughter, wife, or mother of a President).
Barbara Bush and Laura Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine, 2005. It's the 50th anniversary of the day that Barbara's daughter Robin's death - - she died of leukemia at the age of three. The ghost of Robin comes to visit her and Laura tries to pull Barbara out of her funk and get her to go out on the road to campaign for George.
All of the performances were brilliant. I'll give special mention to a few: Barbara Walsh totally nailed Pat Nixon, though it wasn't accurate to have her smoking. She died of lung cancer, but I read in her obit in People magazine that she didn't start smoking until after Watergate. Theresa McCarthy sang beautifully as the ghost of Hannah Nixon and the ghost of Robin Bush. Alison Fraser was marvelously theatrical as Betty Ford, dancing up a storm - - did you know that Betty Ford studied with Martha Graham? And she was suitably chilly as Nancy Reagan - - LaChiusa wrote the scene so that Nancy never sings. Finally, Mary Testa was monumental as Barbara Bush, full of strength and bitterness.
The pacing of the show was extraordinary, the four scenes done in the perfect order, creating a satisfying arc over the course of the performance. The greatest joy of the show was the glorious vocal writing by LaChiusa. He is a gifted composer for the voice. The show opened with a prologue and ended with an epilogue, with all the women onstage singing together. Glorious.