Monday night, Michelle Obama hosted the sixth in a series of White House evenings celebrating “the music that helped shape America.” The list of performers included Nathan Lane, Idina Menzel, Audra McDonald, Brian d’Arcy James, Chad Kimball, Tonya Pinkins, Marvin Hamlisch, Karen Olivo and Assata Alston.
“Why a musical?” is a question we’ve been getting a lot lately, and I think our President has done a truly admirable job of answering it.
At its heart, it’s the power of a story -– of love and of heartbreak; of joy and sorrow; singing witches, dancing ogres. Musicals carry us to a different time and place, but in the end, they also teach us a little bit of something about ourselves. It’s one of the few genres of music that can inspire the same passion in an eight-year-old that it can an 80-year-old –- and make them both want to get up and dance. It transcends musical tastes, from opera and classical to rock and hip-hop. And whether we want to admit it or not, we all have the lyrics to a few Broadway songs stuck in our heads. (Laughter.)
In many ways, the story of Broadway is also intertwined with the story if America. Some of the greatest singers and songwriters Broadway has ever known came to this country on a boat with nothing more than an idea in their head and a song in their heart. And they succeeded the same way that so many immigrants have succeeded -– through talent and hard work and sheer determination.
Over the years, musicals have also been at the forefront of our social consciousness, challenging stereotypes, shaping our opinions about race and religion, death and disease, power and politics.
But perhaps the most American part of this truly American art form is its optimism. Broadway music calls us to see the best in ourselves and in the world around us -– to believe that no matter how hopeless things may seem, the nice guy can still get the girl, the hero can still triumph over evil, and a brighter day can be waiting just around the bend.
As the great Mel Brooks once said, musicals “blow the dust off your soul.” So to everyone watching, both here and at home, here’s a taste of Broadway to help us do just that.
You can read President Obama’s full remarks at White House dot gov.