Bit of a Stretch Theatre Co. is continuing their tradition of bringing complex and thrilling theatre to Houston audiences with Michael John LaChiusa's operetta-like musical FIRST LADY SUITE. Just a couple years out of high school, the young administrative and creative team behind Bit of a Stretch Theatre Co.'s productions is simply inspiring, producing a series of fantastic theatrical events. These talented young artists find and direct casts and crews that convey the intricate works they choose so well that the audience can't help but be blown away, and they make it look so easy on top of it all.
Creating art without concern for if it will be a big blockbuster, Michael John LaChiusa's FIRST LADY SUITE, like his other works, is rich in complexity and depth. Erin Cressy's faultless direction expertly allows each actress in the piece to convey the themes of seeking identity and self-discovery to the audience. Likewise, Erin Cressy expertly utilizes her performance space, filling it when necessary but keeping it decidedly bare so that all attention is given to the emotionality of the words, facial expressions, and score. Michael John LaChiusa is generally known for creating thought provoking, complicated pieces and Erin Cressy's superb direction ensures that the power of Michael John LaChiusa's FIRST LADY SUITE is wholly delivered.
Reminiscent of the United States' current First Lady, Regina Morgan consistently delivers powerhouse opera vocals throughout the show. Like the audience, Regina Morgan's First Lady is a witness to the stories that unfold on the stage and only participates in the framing moments ("Opening: Flight" and "Closing: Flight"); yet, Regina Morgan also portrays the famous opera singer Marian Anderson during Mamie Eisenhower's story. Throughout the show, Regina Morgan's presence is known but not distracting. Regina Morgan deftly portrays a woman who is seeking to understand her place as a First Lady of the United States, learning from the women who have come before her.
Abby Seible adeptly portrays Evelyn Lincoln, secretary to John F. Kennedy, and Eleanor Roosevelt in the production. Her Evelyn Lincoln is collected, calm, and genuinely nice. Exuding poise in both roles, Abby Seible is fantastic throughout the show; however, her performance as Eleanor Roosevelt is a highlight of the evening. Abby Seible's Eleanor is warm and humorous in her giddiness, providing a perfect contrast for Julia Kay Laskowski's Lorena "Hick" Hickok.
As Mary Gallagher, secretary to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, and Margaret Truman, Betty Marie Muessig shows true star quality. Unlike the smoldering character she portrayed in NO EXIT, these characters are both nervous, anxiety-addled women, which Betty Marie Muessig skillfully portrays. Betty Marie Muessig's nervous energy as Mary Gallagher supremely frames her character's nightmare about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, making that moment profound and captivating. In the second act, as Margaret Truman, Betty Marie Muessig's portrayal of nervousness brings out multitudes of laughs, showcasing her comedic timing.
Brad Zimmerman portrays a Presidential Aide, Dwight "Ike" D. Eisenhower, and most-memorably Bess Truman in the show, which reduces the audience to fits of laughter. While not given much time on stage, Brad Zimmerman makes the most of his part and is perfectly cast in each of his three roles.