First Daughter Suite
Time Out says
First Daughter Suite: Theater review by David Cote
It has been 23 years since the restless and inventive Michael John LaChiusa musicalized the inner lives of presidential wives from Eleanor Roosevelt to Jacqueline Kennedy in First Lady Suite. Now he’s back with a sequel covering the next four decades, up to George W. Bush’s reelection campaign. First Daughter Suite may focus more on the girls who grew up under extraordinary circumstances in the White House, but the spouses still fascinate LaChiusa. Whether we share his obsession is another matter.
This chamber piece is made up of four mini musicals: Pat Nixon (Barbara Walsh) referees between bickering daughters on a rained-out wedding day; dorktastic Amy Carter (Carly Tamer) dreams about sailing with former First Daughter Susan Ford (Betsy Morgan) aboard the presidential yacht; poolside Patti Reagan (fierce Caissie Levy) unloads venom on the (nearly) imperturbable Nancy (Alison Fraser, divinely loony); and finally, Barbara Bush (stone-faced Mary Testa) broods in Kennebunkport, Maine, while coolly brushing off daughter-in-law Laura Bush (Rachel Bay Jones, luminous and velvet-voiced). Throughout, LaChiusa cleverly shows how these women and girls have access to authority, but limited power themselves (except for Nancy, of course). There’s an intriguing water motif, as well.
LaChiusa’s tendency to eschew songs and memorable melodies for a sung-through approach works in small doses. And while there is sparkling, ruminative music and witty lyrics, each piece goes on for 5 or 10 minutes too long. Still, for political junkies, there’s fun to be had. The treatment of these public figures is part caricature, part empathetic inquiry. One thing is undeniable: LaChiusa and his director Kirsten Sanderson have a wonderful cast of women at their disposal—charismatic, vibrant, hugely talented. They could run for public office.
Public Theater (Off Broadway). Book, music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa. Directred by Kirsten Sanderson. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote