By William Wolf

FIRST DAUGHTER SUITE  Send This Review to a Friend

Daughters of American presidents are given a satirical going over in this smart, entertaining new musical “First Daughter Suite” by Michael John LaChiusa, presented by the Public Theater and offering a splendid score with clever lyrics and a mostly amusing book. LaChiusa also did the earlier musical, “First Lady Suite,” and this is a logical successor. In truth, the most barbed parts of the new show are about the assortment of the White House moms.

For example, in Act I titled “Happy Pat,” we get to meet Pat Nixon, played and sung splendidly by Barbara Walsh. True, there is focus on the quarreling daughters. Tricia (Betsy Morgan) is stomping around furious that her White House wedding may be ruined by threatened rain, and Julie (Cassie Levy) is sniping at her angry, spoiled sister.

But it is Walsh as Pat who steals the scene with a number that expresses her own views. Also, sitting through it all is Theresa McCarthy as Richard Nixon’s mother, or rather her ghost, and we get some sharply imaginative daughter-in-law-mother-in-law exchanges.

The first act also has a strained mishmash of fantasy called “Amy Carter’s Fabulous Dream Adventure,” set in the spring of 1980 aboard the presidential yacht. Rachel Bay Jones makes a Rosalynn Carter look-alike, while 12-year-old daughter Amy (Carly Tamer) dreams of an expedition to save the hostages in Iran. Alison Fraser entertainingly plays Betty Ford, who loves to dance incessantly, with Betsy Morgan as daughter Susan Ford, and the piece turns into an action saga with shootings and a mess, all in a dream, of course. It is a bit much and you have to like fantasy a lot to not wish the expedition to end more quickly.

Alison Fraser aso does a terrific Nancy Reagan in Act II, with Cassie Levy as Patti Davis. Mrs. Reagan gives hints of her husband’s growing dimness. Patti needles with wonders what Reagan’s previous wife Jane Wyman would have been like as a mother.

The Bushes also get a going over with Mary Testa dynamic as Barbara Bush, and in great voice. Rachel Bay Jones plays Laura Bush, while the adult ghost of daughter Robin (Theresa McCarthy), who died as a child, is also on hand.

Much credit must go to Robert-Charles Vallance for wig and hair design, a great contribution toward getting look-alike imagery, for the first ladies in particular. The show has been directed by Kirsten Sanderson and choreographed by Chase Brock. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Reviewed October 25, 2015.


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