George Washington’s favorite show was supposedly Richard Sheridan’s comedy “The Rivals.” According to the Oliver Stone movie “W.,” George W. Bush’s favorite show is CATS. Stone’s reference to the hit Broadway musical may not be too far off base. On September 15, 2008, George W. Bush hosted a reception for President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana. At the request of the first lady, Disney’s show The Lion King performed six numbers from the hit musical for the dignitaries, and the president himself. It was the same day Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, setting off the current financial crisis. Hakuna Matata was not performed.
If it is true that George W. Bush enjoys the theater, he is by no means the only Commander-In-Chief to have an affection for live performance. In fact, the only other son of a U. S. President who was elected to the presidency, John Quincy Adams, more than enjoyed live theater. The son of John Adams was particularly fond of Shakespeare, and struck up a strong friendship with the 19th Century actor James Henry Hackett. Later in life, in an exchange of letters and essays, Quincy Adams revealed his lifetime of passion for theater. The former president wrote more than a few essays on the characters of Shakespeare, including Hamlet, Juliet, and Othello’s Desdemona. While his views of Shakespeare’s plays reflect some of the racial prejudices of the time, the letters between the actor and the president reveal a genuine fondness and true appreciation for the value of live theater. “My admiration of Shakespeare, as a profound delineator of human nature and a sublime poet, is but little short of idolatry. I think he is often misunderstood, as performed on the stage,” wrote John Quincy Adams. Who knows what he would’ve thought of CATS?
President Lincoln and his wife also loved the theater, though he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater. The Lincolns shared passion for live theatre has been eclipsed by Lincoln’s tragic end. A true theater connoisseur, Lincoln saw countless performances. The celebrated president had even watched a production starring his future assassin, John Wilkes Booth, in Washington on November 9, 1863. According to reports, Booth’s performance that day was uninspired. Lincoln’s secretary described it as “more tame than otherwise.” Arguably, the greatest American President, Lincoln also may have been the president with the greatest enthusiasm for live theater.
Soon, we will have another president. The 2008 election offers two candidates who may end up seeing a Broadway show if elected. John McCain confessed a true love for Mamma Mia! while on the campaign trail this past summer. He listed his favorite song as ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” For the Democrats, Barack Obama allegedly cancelled plans to attend the opening performance of the all-black version of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof on Broadway this past March. That said, we are hopeful that whichever candidate wins, that person will celebrate the artistry of live performance both on Broadway and around the world.