The beguiling, peculiar, musical lives of presidential wives, daughters and mothers.
Twenty-two years ago, the young Michael John LaChiusa burst onto the musical scene as a gifted triple-threat-composer, lyricist and author with a beguiling, poignant and odd chamber musical about presidents' wives called "First Lady Suite."
After a career that has included such daring and off-center works as "Hello Again" and "The Wild Party," LaChiusa is back where his debut show began at the Public Theater with a similarly inventive and peculiar companion piece, "First Daughter Suite." More musically mature but no less audacious, this quartet of playlets about the girls in the White House -- and their mothers and their grandmothers -- is both a satirical and tender tribute to the parallel universe of history in, as Pat Nixon (Barbara Walsh) sings, "a house that will never be a home."
Except for "Amy Carter's Fabulous Dream Adventure," which traps us for too long in the musical-comedy absurdity of a 12-year-old's dream, the brief pieces enchant and inform with an eclectic mix of post-Sondheim modernism, bluesy riffs and swingy styles that are very much his own. Imaginatively directed by Kirsten Sanderson, the terrific nine-woman cast eerily suggests, with only the wittiest bits of caricature, Betty Ford/Nancy Reagan (Alison Fraser), Rosalynn Carter / Laura Bush (Rachel Bay Jones), Julie Nixon/Patti Davis (Caissie Levy), Barbara Bush (Mary Testa).
Separately, all have rich, expressive voices that, together, gleam in unusually stirring dramatic blends. In LaChiusa's deftly researched scenes, history makes a little wistful sense, too.
WHERE Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.
INFO $65; 212-967-7555; publictheater.org