Mr. President – Original Broadway Cast Recording 1962
Act I The curtain rises on a lighted silhouette of the White House. The Theater Manager (David Brooks), in formal attire, prepares the audience to meet the President of the United States, “a simple, everyday family man doing the best he can” (Opening). The scene fades to the glittering formal opulence of a White House ball: elder statesmen in tails; foreign dignitaries in beribboned elegance, puttees, and jeweled turbans; ladies in dazzling gowns and saris; all of them doing – the twist. As President Stephen Decatur Henderson (Robert Ryan) and his wife Nell (Nanette Fabray) enter, the international gyrations respectfully subside. The First Lady declares her aversion to modern rhythms and yearns for a time when things were simpler (“Let’s Go Back to the Waltz”), but as soon as the presidential couple has waltzed off, the crowd explodes once more into a frenzied twist. Later on, in a private White House sitting room, the President and Nell, weary and footsore, relax – he in shirtsleeves, she barefoot. Nell literally lets down her hair by taking off a chignon and plopping it atop a bust of George Washington on the mantelpiece. In anticipatory relief, the President reminds her that they have only four more months to endure. Their attempt at relaxation is interrupted by a courier from the State Department with a note from the Russians in answer to a note sent to them in answer to a note … When the courier leaves, the President muses aloud about the possibility of canceling his upcoming trip to Russia and Asia. When Nell reminds him that the trip was a campaign promise, he claims an allowable twenty-percent deduction on such pledges. “But I would like to talk to the Russian people,” he says. “Oh, if only we could get away from the hubbub on a fishing trip (“In Our Hide-Away”). In happy anticipation, they go into a soft-shoe routine – made even softer because they are not wearing shoes. This time they are interrupted by the arrival of their son Larry (Jerry Strickler) and daughter Leslie (Anita Gillette) on their way to another party. Leslie wants to introduce someone “very important,” her date for the evening, Youssein Davair (Jack Washburn), attached to his country’s embassy in Washington. She is, in fact, so smitten that she proposes staying in Washington while the family goes on that trip abroad, a suggestion Nell dispels when she tells her daughter that they may not go. Youssein, a charming man too obviously handsome, with a slinky sex appeal, is brought in and introduced. When Leslie and Youssein have left, the President calls in secret serviceman Pat Gregory (Jack Haskell) to keep an eye on Leslie and get her home by one o’clock. Nell hears from her secretary about her next day’s schedule. Alone, she muses on the not-so-easy life of “The First Lady,” standing in receiving lines, sparring with the press, counting the White House silver when the guests have gone. At the party, Pat keeps an eye on Leslie, and Charlie Wayne (Stanley Grover), another secret serviceman, has the unenviable job of trailing Larry, who has an inordinate fondness for fast cars and fast women. In this case, Charlie is trying to disentangle Larry from a belly dancer named Princess Kyra (Wisa D’Orso). Charlie kids Pat about his infatuation with Leslie, but Pat insists that their lives are too different: he’s “Meat and Potatoes” and blueberry pie, while she’s soufflé. Meanwhile, on the terrace Youssein tells Leslie he hopes the First Family will visit his country on the projected trip. Leslie tells Youssein that the trip might not take place after all. As the couple starts to move on to the next party, Pat intervenes and informs Leslie that he has strict orders to get her back home by one o’clock. She vents her anger on Pat for putting a crimp in her social life, but he assures her he is only doing his job (“I’ve Got To Be Around”). Leslie bemoans the burden of being a public figure (“The Secret Service”). Following a midnight conference with the State Department courier, Larry’s appearance to tell his father not to worry about his belly-dancing girlfriend, and a nearly tearful Leslie protesting overprotection, the President finally puts out the light to go to sleep. But the problems won’t go away: inflation, the economic situation, the stock market, international tension, and mostly the fear of making the wrong decisions keep the President awake (“It Gets Lonely in the White House”). Bright and early next morning – new problems. Word flashes to Moscow that the President’s trip has been cancelled, and the U.S. Government finds out about the cancellation from an American secret agent in Russia. The President is furious at the security leak. Amidst his morning schedule of medal-pinning, gift-receiving (Maine salmon and Alaskan parkas), and serenade-listening (a visiting boys’ choir), he learns that the Russians plan to turn his cancellation into a propaganda weapon. So he decides to go to Russia after all. Nell realizes that she is responsible for the information leak: she told Leslie, who told Youssein. She starts to scold her daughter, but poor Leslie has her own problems, as she confesses to her mother that she doesn’t really know whether she is in love with Youssein (“Is He the Only Man in the World?”). Nell suggests that a world tour might give Leslie time to think things over. The trip itself proves a brilliant kaleidoscopic display, as tanned Tahitians, Japanese beatniks in leather jackets, a South Seas warrior and an East Indian marching team all conjure up the countries visited by the presidential party. Nell, weary but fascinated and laden with gifts, has discovered that she is popular wherever they go (“They Love Me”). On the plane, the President is kept informed about the ongoing campaign at home to pick his successor, Larry is teaching himself Russian, and Pat is marveling to Leslie about how smoothly the trip is going. They have become friends again and evoke the not-so-long-ago time when Leslie was a little girl (“Pigtails and Freckles”). Leslie is particularly radiant because one of the stops on their itinerary will be Youssein’s homeland, and he will be there to greet her. When they arrive, Pat and Charlie have their hands full with mobs of cheering people, Larry on the loose with all those Turkish delights, and Leslie and Youssein doing their successful best to elude surveillance. Youssein’s palace apartment has all the romantic luxury of the Orient. He has arranged a quiet little supper for two, and tries to ease Leslie’s apprehensions (“Don’t Be Afraid of Romance”). Unknown to them, the CIA has bugged the apartment, and Pat is keeping an ear on the proceedings. Overhearing the exchange of “Please stop … I shouldn’t let you” and “You won’t regret it … please,” Pat becomes frantic at what he imagines is going on, and bursts into the room only to find Youssein trying to refill Leslie’s wine glass. On the flight to Moscow, the President receives word that permission to land has been revoked. In anger, he fires back that he is going to land, with or without permission. The plane lands, to the utter astonishment of the few simple Russian workmen who are there. Henderson emerges from the plane, introduces himself and family, but realizes sadly that his listeners do not understand a word. Larry immediately begins translating his father’s words: “This is why I come. Now we’re communicating. You know your people and our people have been confused by political speechmaking, exchanges of notes, by newspaper headlines – let’s always remember we’re just people.“ As the party boards the plane again, both sides smile and wave goodbye. But at home the reaction is not so kind. Playing up the Russian visit, the opposition wins the presidency by a landslide, with everyone blaming Henderson for the resounding defeat. Depressed and resentful, Henderson is finally soothed by “the family treatment” – (“Laugh It Up”). On Inauguration Day, the Hendersons say goodbye to the White House staff – Larry to his shadow, Charlie, and Leslie to hers, Pat, who is to be bodyguard to the new President’s daughter. Leslie tells him she is engaged to Youssein, and Pat admits all he could give her would be “Empty Pockets Filled with Love.” Henderson takes one last look at his office, already being readied for his successor, and he muses about the tough job in store for the new man. Nell assures him that he has done well, as the curtain falls. Act II In Mansfield the townspeople welcome the Hendersons home. Meeting old friends, going shopping, or doing her own cooking, Nell confesses that she’s “Glad To Be Home.” They try to become part of the community again. Henderson by agreeing to serve as a judge at the county fair, Nell by entering a cake contest, and Larry by getting himself arrested for speeding. But despite all, Henderson feels useless in retirement. He worries that President Chandler, his successor, is making mistakes that he could help him avoid. Henderson just can’t let go, despite Nell’s admonition to try to find something else to do (“You Need a Hobby”). Back in Washington, Leslie has trouble with her fiancé. At a party given by Betty Chandler, the new President’s daughter, Youssein freely admits that it was he who told the Russians about the cancellation of the trip, but he also spies on Russia for the Americans; that’s what a neutral is, he explains. This, and his obvious attentions to Betty, are too much for Leslie, who leaves him to join the other guests in a frenzied dance (“The Washington Twist”). At the county fair, Henderson has just handed out the jam award when Larry, now a state trooper, enters: at last he can drive 95 miles an hour with impunity. Leslie, home from Washington, is surprised to meet Pat on the midway. Suddenly, there is a call for the police and, when Larry responds, he finds the matrons of the town objecting to the “lewd and lascivious steps” of a belly dancer in a sideshow. She is none other than Princess Kyra, who explains that the steps cannot be lascivious since she does no steps at all, as she graphically demonstrates (“The Only Dance I Know”). Chester, a local newspaper reporter, rushes to inform Henderson that the state’s senior senator had just died and that the Governor plans to name Henderson as his replacement. Henderson feels useful once more. When Nell arrives, having just won first prize for her coconut cake, Leslie tells her that she has at last found the right man, and he is Pat (“I’m Gonna Get Him”). At the Henderson home, Governor Bardahl (David Brooks) arrives to offer Henderson the Senate seat. But when he sets conditions to the appointment, Henderson bluntly turns him down. After Bardahl leaves, Henderson explains to Nell that when the nation was young, patriotic principles prevailed, but such is no longer the case. Still, he adds, the Governor’s lack of ethics should not be viewed as a reflection of the country as a whole … there are many positive things in the U.S. (“This is a Great Country”). Leslie and Pat show up to announce their engagement. They tell Henderson and Nell that President Chandler is waiting outside. Knowing Henderson’s great value to the country, the new President has come to ask him to go along to Copenhagen for an international conference. Henderson’s continuing concern for the country’s problems has at last been recognized (Finale).
Theater Manager / Governor Harmon Bardahl: David Brooks President Stephen Decatur Henderson: Robert Ryan Nell Henderson: Nanette Fabray Leslie Henderson: Anita Gillette Larry Henderson: Jerry Strickler Youssein Davair: Jack Washburn Tippy Taylor: Charlotte Fairchild Pat Gregory: Jack Haskell Charley Wayne: Stanley Grover Princess Kyra: Wisa D’Orso Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin