It’s a safe bet that “First Daughter Suite,” another intricate and intense musical by Michael John LaChiusa (“The Wild Party,” “Giant”), will not go on to achieve the commercial success of “Fun Home” or “Hamilton,” both of which also originated at the Public Theater — but that’s not to say it wasn’t worth producing, at least from an artistic perspective.
LaChiusa is often identified as a successor to Stephen Sondheim thanks to his musical versatility and uncompromising intelligence. He is an acquired taste, and he has both devotees and detractors.
“First Daughter Suite,” a companion piece to his 1993 work “First Lady Suite,” explores the wives and daughters of several recent presidents, with a critical eye and compassion for the stresses and strains that they endured.
It consists of four self-contained, well-structured scenes: Tricia Nixon’s wedding day, with Watergate in the background; a fever dream where Amy and Rosalynn Carter are joined by Betty and Susan Ford during the Iran hostage crisis; an uncomfortable poolside chat between Patti Davis and Nancy Reagan; and Barbara Bush haunted by the memory of her daughter Robin (who died at age 3).
“First Daughter Suite” may be uneven and tense, but it is often compelling. As in his other musicals, LaChiusa frequently plays around with style and tone to suit each character.
Kristen Sanderson’s intimate production is marked by high-powered performances from an all-female cast including Barbara Walsh, Caissie Levy, Betsy Morgan, Alison Fraser and Mary Testa.
Given the strong possibility that a former first lady will soon return to the White House in a new capacity, which would allow a former first daughter to regain her old title, the show is certainly timely.
If you go: “First Daughter Suite” plays at the Public Theater through Nov. 15. 425 Lafayette St., publictheater.org.