New production ‘First Lady Suite’ at Parkland theatre

Emma Gray

Staff Writer

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press release image for ‘First Lady Suite’

If you could travel back in time when and where would you go? Parkland theatre’s new production “First Lady Suite” harkens back to the time of post-World War II presidents’ wives.

This musical is a mesh of the lives of several of the first ladies, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Mamie Eisenhower, Bess Truman, and Jacqueline Kennedy. It is filled with time travel and numerous songs throughout. It tells the tales of how the first ladies felt in their given roles as some of the most visible women in the country.

It especially shows their struggles with feeling like they are, in a way, owned by the country, notes theatre director Steve Fiol.

In showing this struggle Fiol has stayed true to the original musical by Michael John LaChiusa, which opened in 1993, in as many ways as possible, continuing the spirit of historical authenticity that the musical has despite the liberties it takes to explore what might have been.

While the individual scenes and words are invented, the details in it are historically accurate which allows one to imagine that each scene could have really taken place.

One unique feature that Fiol has expanded upon is the sense that the piece takes place in a museum setting. He says he has added a few surprises in both the lobby and the opening scene to take the audience deeper into this reality. He has also expanded the cast, which normally has many actors cast in multiple roles, to allow most students to only have one character to focus on.

Fiol says that every student has come to the stage with a wealth of research on their character, giving each of them a depth that is wonderful.

If Fiol had to pick a character that he identified with the most though, he says he would pick Mamie Eisenhower because, while he says “she sounds like a nut case,” she was really “just being herself” even if others did not always agree with her.

Eisenhower had a spirit all of her own, with strong opinions, though she often kept them private. However, in the post-World War II era when women were just entering the political arena in earnest she was a trailblazer in the field. She efficiently ran the white house and her own social and political life at the same time.

Fiol has been directing since 1966, with a rich background in theatre. He has held numerous titles over the years, including opera director at Millikan University, but now is a full time freelance director. He has also had experience as an equity actor. He says the reason he was drawn to directing in particular is the excitement of creating something with the team of students and faculty.

“First Lady Suite” will run on Oct. 6-8, 14, 15, 21, and 22 at 7:30 p.m. and on Oct. 16 and 23 at 3 p.m. Tickets are half-price opening night, normally being $15 for adults, $13 for students and seniors, and $9 for children under 12.

More information on the production can be found on the theatre’s website, theatre.parkland.edu. Links for the “First Lady Suite” and the other three productions set for this theatre season are on the home page.