After a brief opening song about what it is to be a First Lady, we begin aboard Air Force One on that fateful flight to Dallas in November of 1963. Each one of these "vignettes" gives us a different way into the life of the first lady, here it's through a conversation between the President's and the First Lady's secretaries. Jackie's quirky secretary (Christine Wade) has a prophetic dream, in which we see Jackie (Sara Sawyer) in that iconic, tragic, historic moment riding in the car. Next we go on a fantastical flight with Mamie Eisenhower (Sara again), meeting famed Black opera singer Marian Anderson (Ilah Raleigh), with ties to several of these presidencies, and bringing her along to visit Ike (Paul R. Coate) and see what he's really up to when he's away at war. The shortest piece is First Daughter Margaret Truman (Abilene Olson) singing a lovely song, while her impatient mother, First Lady Bess Truman, is the epitome of the annoying audience member (a hilarious Greta Grosch). Finally, we're back in an airplane, this time as Amelia Earhart (Christine again) flies Eleanor Roosevelt (Sara's third First Lady performance) and her friend (and possible lover), reporter Lorena Hickock (Greta again, now with both humor and pathos). This is a show that inspires googling to find out more about the lives of these fascinating women, but it's no dry historical lesson. It's a funny and fantastical flight through history, that's also grounded in the humanity of these characters.
|Christine Wade, Abilene Olson, Sara Sawyer, Ilah Raleigh,|
and Greta Grosch (photo by Jessica Holleque)
If Minneapolis Musical Theatre hadn't already taken the tagline "rare musicals, well done" (and deservedly so), Theatre Elision could use it too, with the added benefit that their pieces are also female focused and 90 minutes or less. First Lady Suite is a gorgeously sung and performed fantastical flight through history, giving voice and humanity to the women who supported* the presidents, for better or worse. See it now through May 6 at Elision Playhouse in Plymouth.
*For more stories of the partners and supporters of historical figures, I recommend the podcast Significant Others, hosted by Liza Powel O'Brien, herself a "significant other" of a well-known figure.