Wednesday, October 19, 2016

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Lerner and Bernstein collaborated on an ambitious piece about the history of race relations in the White House. The original libretto was a play within a play. An argument between the "actors" was the through line as they switched between numerous Presidents, First Ladies and servants. The finale suggested that American Democracy was always "in rehearsal." The show went through many rewrites during a tumultuous tryout period. When it arrived on Broadway the framing device was gone leaving a revue-like series of sketches.

Critics praised Patricia Routledge's turn as the First Ladies and panned the rest. The show closed in 7 performances. Bernstein's estate has arranged  a 1992 student production and a 2008 concert. They've restricted licencing rights beyond that and avoided a full recording.

Snippets of the original show have been found online. Abigail Adams' ballad "Take Care of This House" has received several recordings. The true show stopper of the evening was "Duet for One," a clash between outgoing First Lady Julia Grant and incoming First Lady Lucy Hayes at the 1877 inauguration. Patricia Routledge rapidly alternated between the roles with two distinct character voices. Recordings of the song capture some of the humor but the physical staging apparently lifted it to musical theater heaven.

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