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Take Note Theatre presents

 

FIRST LADY SUITE

 

 

Written by: Michael John LaChiusa

 

Directed by: Rania Jumaily

 

Musical Director: Candida Caldicot

 

Movement Director: Luke Sheppard

 

Union Theatre

 

29 September – 17 October 2009

 

 

 

 

 

A review by Jafar Iqbal for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Considering who they’re married to, you’d be forgiven for not really paying as much attention to the American Presidents’ wives. Sure, they are just as prominent in the limelight as their husbands, but they are not always the ones we care about. After all, the President is the one making all the decisions.

That’s where First Lady Suite comes in.

Produced by Take Note Theatre, this entertaining new musical production deals solely with influential First Ladies across the years, from Mrs Eisenhower to Mrs Obama today. Each of them has their own stories that run parallel with their husband, and the musical seeks to bring them to the forefront.

The production runs in fragmented form – while there is a very thin narrative strand (Michelle Obama looking back on the past as she thinks about her own future as First Lady), each new scene does not follow from the one before it. Rather, they are self-contained snapshots, detailing an important moment in each person’s life. While the Ladies’ are always present, the stories are actually told through the eyes of those close to them, and this in turns adds a fresh spin. There is Jacqueline Kennedy’s personal secretary; Mamie Eisenhower’s friend; Bess Truman’s daughter; and Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal press officer. How the First Ladies influenced the big decisions that shaped the United States is chronicled, and what results is a funny, entertaining yet deeply poignant production.

Performances on the night were extremely strong. In a cast of seven, no one person is overshadowed. Given equal time to showcase both their singing and acting abilities, the actors respond brilliantly. As is to be expected, there are more women than men; though there may not always be physical likenesses to their true counterparts, everyone is believable. Special mention has to be given to Claire Machin and Poppy Tierney who, on the night, stepped it up a notch. Machin, as Mamie Eisenhower, is delightful. Her singing is, of course, top-notch, but it is her presence on stage that blows the audience away. Her mischievous personality is excellently enhanced by a similarly playful and hilarious piece of music, and her little facial nuances are timed perfectly for comic effect. Tierney is equally great in her role, first as the tragic Jacqueline Kennedy, and then as Lorena Hick, journalist for Eleanor Roosevelt. In both roles, Hick brings a natural charm and elegance, which compliment her songs well. To be fair, though, the music was fantastic all night. Two live piano players were also present on the stage, the only accompaniment to the singing, and this ambient sound reinforces the almost dream-like nature of the production.

Every effort was made, in fact, to heighten the sense of a dream-like atmosphere. We see this quite often in the stories themselves, but also in the lighting direction. As well as the traditional spotlights, five lamps are stood around the stage, brightening and dimming as required. Light and dark is an integral theme in the play and Rania Jumaily, the director, excels in bringing it into the production at pivotal points.

There could be a hesitation in wanting to go see a play that relates to a place (and a time) that isn’t as familiar to British audiences, and understandably so. But what Michael John LaChiusa has done whilst writing the play is make sure it appeals to the masses. The audience is never left confused or distant from the characters or the action in the play, and both writer and director need to be commended for this. And, obviously this is a musical, so entertainment is guaranteed. Good songs, good performances. A good night out.

 

 

Tickets: £12 / £15

 

Tues – Sat at 7.30pm / Sun at 3pm

Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, London SE1 0LX

http://uniontheatre.biz

Box Office: 0207 261 9876

 

 

 

 

 

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