Obama: The Musical

“The Prez & I”? “Obamamia”? Actually, the musical about Barack Obama that opened on Sunday at the Jahrhunderthalle in Frankfurt, Germany, is called “Hope – The Obama Musical Story.”

The hat-tip for the one noticing this first must go to Jillian Rayfield, affiliated with Talking Points Memo, and then just yesterday David Kurtz from the same site posted a slide-show on the subject. But I soon found my way to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, the German- and English-language website belonging to the musical itself. Check it out: there’s some good information there, even if the English version is written by someone not in complete control of that language and with a fondness for the phrase inter alia (actually a Latin expression, for all you non-lawyers out there, meaning “among others”). The songs that make up the show will surely become hits, it says there, for “[e]xperts of the German music scene” are sure they have that “Earth Wind and Fire [sic] quality”! Even more intriguingly, we learn that “Hope” is the first “interactive musical,” during which most of the audience will sit on cubes (called “percussion chairs”) that double as instruments and so will be encouraged to drum (and even get up off those chairs to dance) along with the performers! Wow!

Right, so how have the reviews been so far? Of the two I can find, the one from the home-town paper the Frankfurter Rundschau (Border of Gaiety) cannot truly be regarded as independent, since the musical’s producers announce right on their site’s “News” page that the FR is a “mediapartner.” Yes, Barack Obama’s story (and a parallel plot-line about the troubles of a South Chicago community) does turn out to be a suitable subject for a musical, opines reviewer Judith von Sternburg, even though back in the real world, after a whole year in office, ugly Reality has already caught up with the President. Von Sternburg is independent-minded enough to label Hillary Clinton’s portrayal (performed by American actress and “Evita” veteran Tracy Plester, who needs only a quick wardrobe-and-wig-change to render Sarah Palin as well) as “a caricature.” Van Sternburg also manages to pick up on, and mention in her piece, the line spoken by the actor representing a son fighting in Iraq, who comes back home just as Obama is elected and declares that surely the war will soon be over now – something the stage-side English-to-German translator at the premier performance skips.

The other review is from the Financial Times Deutschland (Out of Office: Obama Mia!), by Willy Theobald, who it emerges did not attend the actual premier but rather a previous dress-rehearsal. At least that enabled him also to grab an interview with the show’s producer and director, Roberto Emmanuele, who declares to him “Musicals I generally find boring” – as indeed does Herr Theobald – but “I want to make a musical that is fresher [knackiger] and more innovative than all the others.” He goes on: “Our music has quite a lot of hit-potential,” and Theobald does admit that he finds many of the songs “rather infectious” (richtig mitrei├čend). In the end, the FTD reviewer gives those behind “Hope” a lot of credit, although he can’t resist wondering whether the work will soon need to add another act at the end – one about Yemen.

The verdicts so far out of Germany, then – as few as they are – seem largely positive. Is it perhaps time to go on-line to order your tickets as well as a round-trip flight to Frankfurt-am-Main? Here’s a final YouTube tidbit to help you make your decision:

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