Mrs. Obama, mother Marian Robinson and young daughters Malia and Sasha, and friends, took in the Broadway musical at 3 PM Sunday. When they were escorted to their seats, the entourage got a "huge standing ovation," a spokesperson for Memphis told Playbill.com.
Malia and Sasha watched some backstage activity during intermission before returning to their seats for the top of the second act, when the party got another ovation. The special guests did not meet or take pictures with the cast.
President Barack Obama was preoccupied in Washington, DC, where landmark health legislation was being voted on in Congress. President Obama brought an international spotlight to Broadway in spring 2009 when he took his wife on a promised date to a play — August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone at the Belasco.
Memphis tells the story of a white DJ (played by Chad Kimball) who plays "black music" on a white radio station in racially segregated Tennessee in the 1950s, and falls for an African-American singer (played by Montego Glover).
Memphis producer Sue Frost told Playbill.com on Sunday evening, "We were thrilled to have the First Lady, her daughters, her mom and a group of friends at the show. It was a bit of a security 'scene' — getting all of them in and seated without being mobbed. The audience recognized her immediately and gave her a long, standing ovation before the curtain went up. I have to say I got a little choked up. "The cast was told at half-hour they were coming — they are always at 110 percent but this really kicked it up a notch. Given what the show is about, there was an added resonance having them there — certainly 'Say a Prayer That Change Is Coming' at the end of Act One got a huge, emotional response."
The New York Daily News reported that seats in the first four rows of the Shubert were reserved for the special guests. At intermission, Secret Service agents reportedly cautioned theatregoers against taking pictures of the family and distributing them by cell phone. Digital pictures had already been taken, and agents were apparently trying to stem a security leak.
Frost added, "During intermission the girls took a sneak peek backstage as the stagehands prepped for Act Two, and they seemed to be having a ball. Security whisked them out pretty quickly after the show — they tried to get them out before the curtain call, but [Mrs. Obama is] a class act and everyone stayed — on their feet — until Chad and Montego came out for their bows."
Tony Award nominee Christopher Ashley (Xanadu) directs the musical that features book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) and a score and lyrics by Bon Jovi's David Bryan.
Chad Kimball, who plays Huey in the show, told Playbill.com, "I picked up on [Michelle Obama's] laugh instantly. It's surreal how familiar one becomes with the mannerisms of a person one has never met but has merely watched from a distance for a time. What a thrill it was to see her dance in the aisle at the end along with everyone else, until the Secret Service whisked her away. To perform for a First Lady of the United States was an opportunity that I may never have again in my lifetime..."
Glover, who plays songstress Felicia, told Playbill.com, "I felt so privileged to share the work I love so much with the First Lady, her children and friends. My work is probably one of the clearest expressions of me and it thrilled me to know that she and I were in the same place experiencing the same thing."