Jazz Hands at the White House: Sarah Jessica Parker and Michelle Obama Get in the Musical Theatre Spirit

By Timothy Allen McDonald
31 May 2014

Sarah Jessica Parker
Sarah Jessica Parker
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

When you get a call from the President of the United States asking for help with a musical theatre emergency, the answer is yes. Immediately my jazz hands were up and ready for action.

In truth, the President himself didn't call, but Kathy Fletcher, from the President's Committee on Arts and the Humanities and the National Director of Turnaround Arts did. Turnaround Arts uses the arts to increase student engagement and improve the culture and climate in the country's highest poverty schools. Each participating school is mentored by a high-profile artist, and the first cycle of the program was so successful that it is being expanded from eight schools to 35.

Our Presidential musical theatre mission was a two-parter: 1) To help prepare art mentor Sarah Jessica Parker and her girls from the Martin Luther King Junior School in Portland, OR, to perform "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile" from Annie Jr. and 2) To assist students from a school located on a Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Lame Deer, MT. Before Turnaround Arts, these kids didn't even have a music teacher, and now they were slated to perform a spoken word and percussion piece with their art mentor, the Silk Road Ensemble.

And where were these performances taking place? At a first-ever student talent show in the East Room of the White House hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. No pressure.

Sarah Jessica Parker is everything you'd want her to be — joyful, giggly, hardworking and a wonderful teaching artist. She offered the girls advice like, "being nervous allows you to do things you may not be able to otherwise do, like sing better, or smile bigger, or kick higher, so think of 'nervous' as a friend who's by your side on the journey."

It was good advice, as nerves were certainly present in the moments before our kids performed in the East Room of the White House. The girls were fine; me and my team? To quote Mr. Sondheim, we were "excited and scared."


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