"Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land)" – 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue opened May 4, 1976 on Broadway at the former Mark Hellinger Theatre following a tumultuous out of town period in both Philadelphia and Washington DC. The musical, starring Ken Howard, Patricia Routledge and Gilbert Price, was met with critical derision and subsequently closed four days later, after a total of 13 previews and 7 performances in NY.

The show was the first and only collaboration between Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner. In spite of the tepid response by both audiences and critics, this particular song caught the audience’s attention in the middle of the second act. Patricia Routledge starred as First Ladies from 1800-1900; in this particular song she was both outgoing Julia Grant and incoming Lucy Hayes at the 1877 inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes. The comic soprano delineated the two characters with the flip of a trick, double-sided wig and change in voice. The nine minute tour-de-force received thunderous applause, and even some lengthy mid-show standing ovations; an incredible feat considering the show’s reception.

This is from the Broadway opening night performance, at which the audience cheered for a full minute and eight seconds (the ovation has been trimmed on this particular recording). It’s remarkable to hear the audience, which up until this point had been mostly polite in its applause, come alive in this one song. There is a slow build to total euphoria which is almost as fascinating to hear as the actual performance.