In the final stretch of President Barack Obama’s eight-year presidency and in honor of his and First Lady Michelle Obama’s involvement and love for the Broadway community, Broadway Black looks back on the First Family’s top eight moments dedicated to the theatre:
1) The Birth of Hamilton
On May 12, 2009, the First Family hosted the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word in celebration of America’s poetry culture. Artists such as Esperanza Spalding and James Earl Jones lent their voices to the evening, the latter performing a monologue from Othello. However, no act that night would be as memorable as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s preview of The Hamilton Mixtape, based on the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton. That performance of the opening number, “Alexander Hamilton,” would evolve into the groundbreaking Broadway phenomenon Hamilton, which earned 11 Tonys, a Grammy, the Pulitzer, and two #1 albums on Billboard.
2) Obamas Crash the 2016 Tony Awards
The Obamas came full circle with Hamilton when, in a surprise appearance via satellite, they introduced the cast’s performance at the 2016 Tony Awards. The pair recounted Miranda’s visit to the White House’s poetry jam and their uncertainty about his project about the founding father “who embodies hip hop.”
3) Michelle Obama Hosts Broadway Shines a Light on Girls’ Global Education
In March 2015, the First Lady launched the Let Girls Learn initiative, which sought to address the challenges young girls face that would prevent them from achieving a quality education and reaching their full potential. Last September, Michelle and Stephen Colbert hosted an event at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre, which featured a range of performances from Broadway shows including The Color Purple, Waitress, and Wicked.
4) A Celebration of American Creativity
In 2015, President Obama and FLOTUS hosted an all-star music tribute commemorating the 50th anniversary of National Foundation On the Arts and the Humanities Act that was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The evening included Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald performing “Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime, the show that earned McDonald a Tony.
5) #Bam4Ham: Obama Freestyles with Lin-Manuel Miranda
During peak-Hamilton, the Obamas invited local students and the cast of Hamilton to the White House for a daylong celebration of the arts. Dubbed #Bam4Ham, the event included workshops, a Q&A session, and performances by the cast. Of course, our President couldn’t resist participating in a freestyle with the musical’s award-winning composer, which would reference Obamacare, The Federalist Papers, and NASA. This visit would also be featured in the PBS documentary “Hamilton’s America.”
6) Obama Presents Audra McDonald with the National Medal of Arts
In late September of 2016, the President presented McDonald with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor for achievements in the arts. Pregnant at the time, the six-time Tony Award winner stood grinning as the announcer struggled to find her citation; “I can make up a citation if you want,” Obama quipped.
7) Michelle Celebrates TLC’s Broadway at the White House
True to her spirit and legacy, the First Lady never gave up an opportunity to promote the growth and education of the youth, especially when it came to the arts. With hosts Matthew Morrison and Kristin Chenoweth, she invited 40 students from public high schools and after-school programs to participate in a series of masterclasses and workshops dedicated to various production aspects of theatre. The event, which later aired on Thanksgiving of 2015 on TLC, featured performances from Fun Home, Finding Neverland, On Your Feet, and Bobbi MacKenzie of School of Rock. We can’t get over that “proud mama” moment at 4:45 either.
8) Obama: 1, Ticket-Scalpers: 0
Long before the rise in popularity and demand of a certain blockbuster musical, the dreaded ticket-scalpers were the bane of any concert- or theatre-goer’s existence. With a ticket bot, any person could purchase a huge number of tickets, in the time it takes the average buyer to find the calendar feature on the ticketing site, and resell them at a much higher price.
Tickets for Miranda and Leslie Odom, Jr.’s, final performance sold as high as $10,900 a seat. Mind you, the average face value of a ticket at the time was $189. Many unsuspecting patrons have even fallen victim to fake ticketing schemes, including billionaire Chris Sacca of “Shark Tank” fame.
Early last December, the President signed the Better Online Ticket Sales Act of 2016, prohibiting “the circumvention of control measures used by Internet ticket sellers to ensure equitable consumer access to tickets for certain events,” a bill which Ticketmaster helped develop.
To the First Family,
The Broadway theatre community — Broadway Black — cannot thank you enough for all you’ve done to help embrace, shape, and protect the future of this art form.