NEW YORK (AP) — The current American president took a trip back in time Saturday to visit some of the country’s early leaders in the hip-hop musical “Hamilton” on Broadway, leaving the young cast jazzed and beaming.
Barack Obama and his daughters caught a Saturday matinee of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s celebrated show about the first four presidents, the Founding Fathers and especially the nation’s first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton.
Renée Elise Goldsberry, who plays Angelica Schuyler, told herself to try to slow down. “My breath at the start of the show was in my neck,” she said, laughing. “Fortunately, there was a lot of prayer happening before.”
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Obama loved the play and pronounced it “fabulous.” Added Schultz: “He said it lived up to the hype.”
For the performance, 35-year-old Miranda — who composed the songs, wrote the story and usually plays the title character — wore a dark suit and sat beside the president at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. His understudy, Javier Muñoz, played Hamilton.
“It felt fitting to get to watch the show with the president and his family in attendance. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a thrill like it again,” said Miranda.
It’s the first time Obama has seen the full show. Miranda first performed material from what he was then called “The Hamilton Mixtape” for a newly elected Obama in 2009. First lady Michelle Obama caught it in downtown this spring.
The musical focuses on the orphan, immigrant roots of “the $10 Founding Father without a father,” his vices and ambition, and his almost Greek tragedy of a death at the hands of Aaron Burr.
Director Thomas Kail said the musical in many ways had its origins in Obama’s election and the commander-in-chief’s presence Saturday “put a charge in the atmosphere. It was palpable.”
Kail’s instructions to the cast: Do the show, no more, no less. “To honor him and the show, you just do the show and let him be a father here with his two daughters,” said Kail.
The president slipped into his seat just before it started and then went onstage at intermission to take a private photo with the cast and producers. His presence froze traffic in much of Times Square, with two sanitation trucks shutting down all vehicles on 46th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. Many cast members gathered onstage after the theater was empty, sharing high-fives and beaming.
“Hamilton” was a sold-out sensation earlier this year when it debuted off-Broadway, with people paying well over 10 times the $120 ticket price and a crush of fans seeking lottery tickets. Celebrities like Tom Hanks and Madonna showed up and praised the show for its mix of breezy pop, rap battles, gospel and R&B.
Jonathan Groff, who plays a hysterically foppish King George III, said the whole day was “completely surreal.” He rode his bike to the theater and “had butterflies in my stomach.” He, like the rest of the cast, never broke character to acknowledge their special guests.
The Obamas have been big boosters of Broadway during his presidency. Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia have attended performances of “Memphis,” ”Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” ”Sister Act,” ”The Trip to Bountiful,” ”Motown the Musical” and “The Addams Family.”
The first couple saw Denzel Washington in a revival of “A Raisin in the Sun” last year and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” during a date night in 2009. Michelle Obama and six girlfriends also saw “Fela!” in 2010. Last weekend, Michelle Obama, her two daughters and her mom caught the Saturday matinee of “Kinky Boots.”
Goldsberry recalled hearing that the Obamas had attended “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” and said she thought: “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be them. Today, I get to be in that blessed club. I will talk about it forever. I’m a little taller today.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits