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When it comes to White House royalty, you’ve heard of first ladies — but have you heard of a White House princess? Introducing Alice Roosevelt, the eldest child of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.
The original musical comedy “White House Princess” premieres on Oct. 26 at the Agassiz Theatre. Co-written by Maureen Clare ’24 and Charlotte J. Daniels ’23, the show follows Alice Roosevelt and her cousin, Eleanor. As Alice proves to be a handful for her father to keep under control, and as Eleanor struggles to realize that her own desires are stifled by societal constraints, the musical explores family dynamics, queer love, and the realities of life as a woman in the 20th century.
This show was a long time in the making. Clare and Daniels, who have been friends since their first year at Harvard, both spent the spring of 2020 at home, saddened by the fact that their freshman year was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic. They found inspiration in a small picture of Alice Roosevelt in the National Portrait Gallery and instantly knew they wanted to learn more about the White House wild child — leading them to eventually write “White House Princess.”
Working on the books, lyrics, and music became an entirely collaborative act.
“I was much more into the script, then she was into the music, and then we sort of both were like, let's both do both,” Clare said. “And it was so cool.”
Writing in various moments of free time after they returned to college in person, they dedicated significant time to the project during the past two summers with support from Harvard’s English Department. When they learned they received a residency, Clare traveled to Daniels’ home in Los Angeles, where they spent twelve to fifteen hours a day writing songs, finishing the finale just before Clare had to leave for her departure flight at 5 a.m.
Bringing the show to life was much harder than they anticipated. Creating vocal arrangements, orchestrations, and underscoring were skills that they had to refine while working in order to be ready for the cast and orchestra. Then, Clare and Daniels moved away from writing and into their roles as Executive Producer and Vocal Music Director, respectively.
Clare worked with artists to support their creative contributions, and Daniels gained hands-on experience learning how to bring a musical from page to stage.
“We’ve got this crazy overwhelming amount of talent on our team now. I’m just in a position where I’m trying to maximize that talent,” Clare said.
“I’m so thankful for the experience because I don’t think that I would have been able to learn this much in any amount of time,” Daniels said.
In the words of Clare, Director Lollie R. McKenzie ’26 added “a layer of magic” to every aspect of the show. For her, this musical is an opportunity to share purposeful stories, particularly a woman’s story and a queer love story. The circumstances surrounding the show feel special to her: A women-led team tells a woman’s story in the Agassiz Theatre, named after Elizabeth Agassiz.
“It's been really lovely to tell a story that I feel so deeply connected to, even though it’s on a completely different time period and a different country, even on a different culture,” McKenzie, who is from England, said.
The show’s engagement with history extends beyond the performance. The crew spent a lot of time at Houghton Library’s Roosevelt Collection, and select archival materials will be available to explore before and after the performances. Headlines, photos, and letters are projected during the performance as the show progresses with a non-chronological timeline, and some costumes are borrowed from the Huntington Theater in Boston. The Saturday matinee is “Nerd Day” which will include a post-show talkback with American Historian and Harvard President Emerita Drew Faust, as well as the co-writers of the show. =
Despite its historical underpinnings, the musical often takes on a contemporary style. According to Daniels, the co-writing helped to create this harmony.
“Maureen has a very strong background in old musical theater … I have a great love and admiration for the most recent kind of musical theater, like ‘Pippin’ to now,” she said.
“I think that those musical inspirations have definitely merged in a fun way, because we'll be playing something and I'll want to make it sound ‘Waitress’-y, and she will be like, ‘Oh, what if we add in this musical idea that’s kind of reminiscent of ‘The Music Man’.’”
The small 12-person cast creates a close-knit group, bringing emotionally expressive harmonies, heartfelt interactions, and historical humor to the stage. From jazz numbers to delicate lyricism to a classic presidential-feeling style, the overall contemporary show includes moments of tenderness, anger, and laughter. At the Agassiz, the orchestra is on stage, and the instrumentalists are dressed in costume — thus fully immersed in the performance.
An entirely student-written musical, “White House Princess” highlights a headstrong woman, her wild antics, and a queer romance in a historical setting that traditionally silenced such stories, aiming to deliver a fresh take on century-old characters.
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