By the time the second movement of “First Lady Suite” lays out its imagined meeting between Mamie Eisenhower (Elizabeth Hailey) and opera singer Marian Anderson (Winifred Brown-Noll), the musical has firmly established its resemblance to a Disney Animatronic show gone awry. Anderson sings an impassioned plea to Mamie on behalf of the embattled students in Little Rock: “The situation in Little Rock is dangerous. The President must intervene,” Brown-Noll intones with an admirably straight face. Mamie responds by traveling back in time to instruct then-General Dwight in the imperative of integration, a lesson disturbed when she discovers Dwight carrying on with chauffeur Kay Sommersby. The cast of this Bailiwick production performs Michael John LaChiusa’s demanding, and occasionally majestic, score beautifully. The frequently ludicrous and prosy book, though, makes LaChiusa’s limitations as a dramatist evident. We see a nervous Jackie Kennedy, a vulgar Lady Bird Johnson, an earnestly flirtatious Eleanor Roosevelt (stroking the hand of Amelia Earhart), but never venture beyond a schematic understanding of these women or their larger significance. LaChiusa may be striving to emulate the contemporary history of John Adams (“Nixon in China,” “The Death of Klinghoffer”), but “First Lady Suite” reminded me more of Troy McClure. (John Beer)
This production is now closed.