Sara Lazarus is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week she contributes a campaign journal documenting her life out on the trail.
When the planners of Broadway For Obama, a Benefit held at the State Theatre in Easton, PA on October 20, chose to present the event in the politically divided and hotly contested Lehigh Valley, they wanted to demonstrate to residents the passion the Broadway community feels for Barack Obama. But when they decided to include local youth alongside the Broadway performers, they found they were in for a bumpy ride.
Cathy Scharf of Bethlehem, one of the organizers, wasn't prepared for the angry responses of some parents to the group's ads and emails inviting high school and college students to audition. One father asked her why she was inviting his daughter to be part of a Hitler-like rally. Others simply refused to let their children audition.
Those publicizing the event also hit unexpected obstacles. A mass email sent from the State Theatre had a disclaimer that the event was a rental, and also included a statement from the producers that "McCain supporters are welcome and are invited to fill out donor cards for a different charity." Nonetheless, within a few hours, the theatre felt the need to send out yet another message stating, "We will not endorse political candidates and if this was misinterpreted, we regret any offense one may have taken." Ms. Scharf was not surprised. "I'm sure they got the same kind of reaction that I received. Sad."
Ultimately, thirty-six high school and college students participated. There were some whose love of performing trumped politics. Meghan Kelly's parents are staunch Republicans. However, Meghan was cast in a duet with Wicked's Julie Reiber, and this was an offer she couldn't refuse. "Broadway for Obama is giving me an amazing opportunity to work closely with Broadway professionals and to observe and learn from them. No kids my age get this chance." In fact, the local talent got to be onstage with thirty-two Broadway singers who gave up their day off to travel to Easton from Manhattan, including Tony Award winner Priscilla Lopez, currently starring in "In The Heights," and Brandon Dixon, Tony nominee for "The Color Purple."
The young company rehearsed the weekend before with the Stage Director who, in the name of complete disclosure, was me, and with Musical Director Beth Falcone. At the Sunday rehearsal, we cast Emily Mest and Krystina Perez to appear opposite Shawn Taylor-Corbett of "In The Heights." The two girls waxed enthusiastic about the show and the election. Emily stated, "Obama is the first candidate to have an arts platform." Krystina added, "Obama strives to appoint our generation as leaders by sending more to college and adapting the questionable "No Child Left Behind" act. I want Obama for President, I want a future. I am a part of Broadway For Obama because I want change." Understudy Drew Donaher declared, "Since I am only twelve, I am voting with my talent and being part of this amazing show!"
Over seven hundred people filled the beautiful and historic State Theatre. In his welcome to the audience, Hunter Bell, the writer and star of "Title Of Show" and the host for the evening, told the audience that, in the spirit of Barack Obama's own sense of inclusiveness, all political persuasions were welcome, and that the company wanted everyone to sit back and enjoy the show. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief in the audience. No Hitler rally here!
Many kids watched the show from the wings, and listened to speakers John Martin,
Co-Founder of Republicans For Obama, who spoke of his choice to reject his party's nominee, and Doni Remba, Middle East policy analyst who had fascinating stories to tell of his years in Chicago watching Obama build a consensus among differing groups.
Afterward, as the elated crowd exited the theatre, the kids hung around onstage, hugging everyone they saw, and saying goodbye to their Broadway counterparts. Even Meghan Kelly's parents were heard to say that they enjoyed the show and didn't feel pressured at all. As producer Linny Fowler told the audience in her closing remarks, "We may not have changed minds, but hopefully we've opened them."
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