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by Michael Portantiere

Presidential Material

  • President.jpg

    Presidential Material

    Mr. President had one of the largest advance sales in Broadway history -- no surprise, since it was announced that the show would have a new score by the legendary Irving Berlin.

    The idea that the composer who had written such essential pieces of musical Americana as "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "White Christmas," "Easter Parade," "God Bless America" and the Broadway hits Annie Get Your Gun and Call Me Madam would be musicalizing the Presidency was catnip for ticket buyers -- not to mention the fact that the show's book writers were Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, whose previous hits included Life With Father (still Broadway's long-run champ among straight plays) and a little tuner called The Sound of Music.

    So, yes, expectations were through the roof as Mr. President opened at the St. James Theater on October 20, 1962, starring Robert Ryan, Nanette Fabray, and Anita Gillette. But the reviews were not good, the advance dwindled, and the show closed after a run of only 265 performances. Save for Forbidden Broadway-meister Gerard Alessandrini's extensively rewritten, Bush-era takeoff version, which had a brief run Off-Broadway in 2001, it has never resurfaced in NYC and has rarely if ever been done elsewhere -- until now. You can see the show in its original form in a one-night-only staged concert presentation on Sunday, July 18 at 8pm in the Mainstage Theatre (at Playwrights Horizons), 416 West 42nd Street.

    This is the maiden voyage of a new company called Theatrical Gems, founded by Jacob Shoesmith-Fox, Claudia Stuart, and Jonathan Galvez. Like several other NYC concerns, the group exists to revive underappreciated musicals through its "Lost Gems" series, though it also has plans to produce new works.

    How was Mr. President, of all shows, chosen for the company's initial project? Says artistic director Jacob, "I was given the cast recording on cassette tape about five years ago, as part of a big box of about 70 cast albums that I got from a family friend, and I fell in love with the score. When we first started talking about doing older shows that haven't had a life after their original Broadway productions, Mr. President immediately came to mind. I had never heard of the show before I got the tape, and I thought this score needed to be heard again."

    Asked why he thinks Mr. President fizzled the first time out, Jacob says, "Maybe because it isn't about the Kennedys and the Camelot era, which people were so excited about. In this show, we see a President during his last few months in office and as he begins his retirement; he's tired of dealing with politics and losing so many battles. I guess audiences back then weren't interested in that kind of thing. But today, some of the show seems so timely -- especially the final scene, which is all about partisan politics. It's been amazing for us to revisit this forgotten musical."

    The cast of the "Lost Gems" production is headed Larry Daggett as POTUS and Kimberly Faye Greenberg as his wife (see photo above), with Erin Mackey as their daughter and Spencer Andrew Taylor as their son. Also featured in the 24-member company are Chuck Karel and Joy Hermalyn. Jacob is directing the show, and Steven H. Taylor is musical director.

    Mr. President is a benefit for The Actors' Fund. "Part of our mission statement is to support organizations that help the theater industry," says Jacob. "The Actors' Fund is a wonderful organization that does so much for the community." For more information, visit theatricalgems.org.

    Published on Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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