Obama 'The Musical' Opens In Germany

A new theater production Hope: The Obama Musical Story opened this week in Frankfurt, Germany. It tells the story, in song and dance, of America's first black president. It is likely to be a big success in a country where President Obama is still immensely popular.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now for Washington - the musical. It premiered on a stage in Frankfurt, Germany, this week. Theater-goers were treated to a singing Sarah Palin with go-go dancers, a Hillary Clinton solo, and Barack and Michelle Obama crooning over their budding romance. The production is called Hope. It sets the story of the 2008 election to song and dance.

Kyle James went to a rehearsal and brings us this report.

Unidentified Man #1: Check one, two.

Unidentified Man #2: Check one, two, three, four.

KYLE JAMES: In a rehearsal space technicians cue music and a group of performers take their positions for the first song of the new Obama musical. The lyrics talk about the concerns of many in America as the 2008 elections approached.

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

JAMES: One of the shows storylines centers around a fictional group of people living in a Chicago community. Among them there is a Puerto Rican man who has lost his job and his faith in politics, an African-American activist, and a conservative widow who has immigrated from Germany.

Unidentified Woman #1: Mr. John McCain is the only obvious choice to be the next president.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #4: Oh, God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RANDALL HUTCHINS (Writer-Composer): Each person depicts a general circumstance that people found themselves in - jobless, losing their jobs, the homes, losing homes.

JAMES: Randall Hutchins is an American living in Germany, who wrote the show and composed the music. He said he wanted to show how the Obama campaign was able to inspire a large cross-section of people and restore their faith in the future.

Mr. HUTCHINS: The movement in the country was - the vibe was incredible, if you remember, you know, it was really a special time. So the inspiration came from that combination.

JAMES: The musical follows Barack Obamas path from community organizer to American president. Along the way he meets a certain Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, here played by Houston native Della Miles.

Ms. DELLA MILES (Actor): It shows how they were working together first and how they connected and how it became a relationship. There is a place where you see how they fell in love.

(Singing) But I feel so unusually shy.

Unidentified Man #5: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

JAMES: The musical features portrayals of a number of top politicians and figures from the election, including a very young looking Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin, who both have dance numbers. John McCain has a singing role, as does Jeremiah Wright, the pastor whose fiery rhetoric disrupted the Obama campaign. But center stage, of course, is Barack Obama, himself, and the musical climaxes with a rousing song inspired by the campaign slogan.

(Soundbite of song)

JAMES: Actor Jimmie Wilson, who hails from Detroit, plays the president.

Mr. JIMMIE WILSON (Actor): Its an honor to portray him. Its an opportunity also in my career because theres a lot of focus on this. Were getting a lot comments online, a lot of negative comments, but we don't listen to that.

JAMES: Indeed, the musical is taking a beating on the Internet. Comments on blogs and YouTube disparage it as being propaganda, pure cheese, deification or a lot of things you cant really say on the radio. Composer Hutchins denies hes written a musical about Saint Obama, but admits that the presidents falling approval ratings at home had to be taken into account.

Mr. HUTCHINS: I wanted to initially do it in the U.S. But if I would have, I think it would have been more controversial there. Right now President Obamas popularity is much higher in Europe, so it worked out.

JAMES: Hes not anticipating a run on Broadway anytime soon. For now, he hopes the show will draw good-sized audiences around Germany. After all, this is the country where 200,000 people turned out when Obama gave a speech in Berlin in 2008. Then, Hutchins says, he's looking toward a possible tour for the show in Africa, where the perils of Washington politics havent dulled the president's shine.

For NPR News, Im Kyle James.

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