Michael John LaChiusa's First Lady Suite, his varied and imaginative musical portraits about matrons of the White House, first seen at The Public Theater in 1993, will get its world premiere recording on the ps classics label.
Producers Tommy Krasker and Joel Moss will preserve the work of the recent, acclaimed Blank Theatre staging in Los Angeles. The disc, expected for early fall, includes added material by the composer-lyricist LaChiusa, whose The Wild Party and Marie Christine were seen on Broadway.
The company of nine will record in L.A. May 19. The disc includes an Opening and Finale written specifically by LaChiusa for this production. The two-piano arrangement created for this version will be augmented with additional instruments for the recording, under the composer's supervision.
First Lady Suite opened March 9 at the Blank Theatre and enjoyed an extended run to April 28. Artistic director Daniel Henning directed the show, which revisits the lives of various 20th century presidential First Ladies. LaChiusa won an Obie Award for his work.
The Blank staging featured Gregory Jbara (Victor/Victoria, Chicago) as Eisenhower/Bess Truman, former Miss America and Cabaret star Kate Shindle as aviator Amelia Earhart, and Violet and Carousel's Paula Newsome as Marian Anderson. Also in the L.A. cast were Eydie Alyson as Mamie Eisenhower, Heather Lee (Beauty and the Beast) as Mary Gallagher, Mary-Pat Green (Starr Struck) as Lorena Hickok, Bronwen Booth as Jackie Kennedy, Evelyn Halus as Eleanor Roosevelt and Irene Warner as Margaret Truman. In First Lady Suite, "Over Texas" visits the secretaries of Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy as they fly into Dallas on November 22, 1963. In "Where's Mamie?," Mamie Eisenhower travels through time and space to warn her husband off an affair and of the upcoming racial strife during his presidency. The brief interlude known as "Olio" features Margaret Truman attempting to sing at a recital while she is constantly interrupted by Bess (which will not be recorded because it largely relies on visuals). The final piece, "Eleanor Sleeps Here," finds Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok flying over Washington with Amelia Earhart.
Other LaChiusa musicals include the Tony nominees Marie Christine and The Wild Party, and Hello Again. All three have cast albums. With the added opening and closing, the First Lady Suite disc is expected to run about 79 minutes. The musical director is Stephen Bates.
Record producers Krasker and Moss most recently collaborated on ps classics' premiere recording of Vincent Youmans' forgotten show, Through the Years, and the live concert album of Dreamgirls.
"My relationship with Michael John goes back to working with him on Audra McDonald's 'Way Back to Paradise' [disc] almost five years ago, although I had been a fan of his work since seeing Hello Again a few years before that," Krasker told Playbill On-Line. "The notion of recording First Lady Suite was actually suggested to me by my colleague Eric Besner at Image Entertainment, who are now distributing the ps classics line. He saw the L.A. production, was enormously enthusiastic, and suggested I take a look. I loved the piece itself, but also thought the cast, with a long run behind them, was giving the kind of committed, no-holds-barred performances that the show needed — and especially that a disc needed to really convey Michael John's vision. When I spoke with Michael John, he was equally pleased with the production, and specifically felt that it was a wonderful representation of the piece itself. We both agreed it should be recorded."
Krasker's ps classics label is devoted to the preservation of theatre music and American pop. Visit its website at psclassics.com.
The Blank Theatre Company, which presented the West Coast premiere of Hello Again, is on the web at http://www.theblank.com.
— By Kenneth Jones
and Christine Ehren