Spotlight: Presidents Onstage

Good afternoon, everyone! This presidential election has been something of a media circus, hasn’t it? Whether you’re with her or feeling the Bern or making America great again- or none of the above- you probably have heard more about these folks individually than you did last time’s candidates put together.

But let’s not talk about politics. This is a performing arts blog and we’re going to stick with that. However, I’d be lying if I said the Commander-in-Chief lifestyle was absent from the artistic world. People seem to have a fascination with the personal lives of the U.S. Presidents…their families, their psyches, their hidden philosophies. And as with any fascination, there is rich fodder for creativity. So in this entry, I’ll be breaking down some of the most famous stage stories to ever dive into the White House.

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First Daughter Suite. In the followup to his own First Lady Suite, composer Michael John LaChiusa offers us a glimpse at the struggles of presidential daughters. The piece is actually comprised of four mini-musicals, each focusing on the Nixons (pictured), the Carters, the Reagans, and the Bushes, respectively. It’s a hodgepodge both musically and dramatically, touching on many genres and theatrical elements from surrealism to expressionism. The show played at the Public Theater last year, anchored by a dynamic nine-woman cast.

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City Center

1776. As its name implies, this beloved Broadway musical from Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone provides audiences with an insider’s look at how the Declaration of Independence got signed. John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock (as well as most of their wives) all appear as characters. The original production won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and a new production (pictured) very recently found itself at New York City Center.

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Nixon in China. In what is perhaps the most bizarre source material ever used in an opera, Nixon in China played the Metropolitan Opera in 2011 after a 2006 debut in England. The composer of the piece is named- I kid you not- John Adams (libretto done by Alice Goodman). You can’t make this stuff up. In all seriousness, however…the story is told through aria, chorus, and ballet, among other traditional elements serving a very untraditional work. Fascinatingly enough, Richard Nixon’s daughter Tricia even attended a performance and offered it a standing ovation.

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Hamilton. Oh, and then there’s this!

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