Obamas find a way to do Broadway at home, hosting star-studded PBS taping [Updated]
During the administration of President George W. Bush, news that Tony was to be heavily represented at a fete in the East Room of the White House would have suggested a British theme to the evening, with emissaries of then-Prime Minister Blair in attendance.
Times have changed. On Monday, the dignitaries hosted by President and Mrs. Obama will bring their regards from Broadway, not 10 Downing Street, while sharing talents that collectively have won them 11 Tony Awards.
The public is invited to watch -- eventually -- on "A Broadway Celebration," which will be taped for broadcast Oct. 20 as an installment in the PBS series, "In Performance at the White House."
The Tony-winning performers are actor-singers Nathan Lane (two Tonys), Audra McDonald (four Tonys), Idina Menzel, Tonya Pinkins and Karen Olivo (one each, for "Wicked," "Jelly's Last Jam" and "West Side Story," respectively), and pianist Marvin Hamlisch, a Tony winner for his score to "A Chorus Line." Working behind the scenes is Jerry Mitchell, Tony-winning choreographer (for the 2004 revival of "La Cage aux Folles"), who will guide 20 Washington, D.C., dance students in a segment from "Hairspray," another show he choreographed.
Also performing are Brian d'Arcy James ("Shrek: The Musical"), Chad Kimball ("Memphis") and Assata Alston, a 12-year-old from Queens, N.Y., who recently debuted at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
[Update: The White House announced Friday that Elaine Stritch and "Hairspray" veterans Danielle Arci and Constantine Rousouli have been added to the show; Stritch is a Tony winner (for her one-woman show, "Elaine Stritch at Liberty"), bringing the ensemble's collective career Tony haul to 12.]
Presumably, critics who slammed the president and first lady last year for wasting taxpayer money when they flew to New York for dinner and a Broadway show (August Wilson's drama "Joe Turner's Come and Gone") won't complain about Broadway coming to them. Obama-watchers can catch the president's show-opening remarks live on Monday at 4 p.m. Pacific on the Internet at www.whitehouse.gov, but the public will have to wait until October for the performances.
As for those who got their hopes up when we mentioned a British theme in the East Room, PBS will oblige July 28 with the next "In Performance at the White House" broadcast, starring Paul McCartney with guests Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Jonas Brothers, Herbie Hancock, Corinne Bailey Rae, Dave Grohl, Faith Hill, Emmylou Harris, Lang Lang and Jack White. The show, celebrating Sir Paul's receiving this year's Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, was taped in the East Room on June 2.
-- Mike Boehm
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Photos: Nathan Lane in "The Producers"; the Obamas, dressed for a Broadway night out, walk on the White House lawn in 2009 en route to the presidential helicopter for first leg of their controversial trip to New York. Credits: Tina Fineberg / AP (Lane); Aude Guerrucci / Bloomberg News (Obamas).