“I'm fascinated by Obama,” 55-year-old spectator Cornelia Hirschfeld told AFP halfway through “Hope - The Obama Musical Story.” Obama underscored his trademark theme with a chorus of “Yes We Can” and sang a lover's duet with his wife Michelle in a show producers hope to take one day to the United States.
“I'm so proud to represent President Barack Obama, proud to be an American,” lead actor Jimmie Wilson said afterwards. “It's an honour, I can't say much more than that.”
Wilson told AFP the qualities he admired most in Obama were his eloquence, strength and vision, adding that it was amazing how “he moved a world.” Actors playing Obama's Republican opponents John McCain and Sarah Palin did numbers of their own, the latter singing “Ich bin ein Pitbull,” or “I'm a Pitbull,” in a musical that was uneven but gained steam in the second act.
Set in Chicago, where Obama worked as a community organizer, the plot portrays how his message helps reconcile residents of a multi-cultural neighbourhood and propels a young black politician to the White House in 2008.
“We showed a lot of social movement and this is what the musical is about, that we have to keep a positive spirit about the world,” said Roberto Emmanuele, the German-Italian producer and director.
As for whether the White House had heard about this show, Emmanuele said: “I think so but I haven't had a message yet from them. I think I will get one after today, I hope so.”
Author and composer Randall Hutchins insisted the show was not politically motivated but acknowledged Obama's campaign “inspired me to get back into the (electoral) process.”
When asked if he was surprised by the audience's enthusiastic reception, Hutchins said: “Yeah! Not that I thought it was bad music, but you never know how people are going to react to do something you do from your heart.”
Obama's US approval ratings have fallen since he took office a year ago, but he is popular in Germany where 44 percent saw him as their political role model in a November poll, almost twice the number of the closest German politician.
The rising US political candidate drew 200,000 people to a Berlin event in July 2008, and Wilson, who has performed all over Germany in other shows, says “they're big fans of President Obama.”
In a US Quinnipiac University poll released last week, voters were split 45-45 on whether Obama's first year was a success or failure, compared with 70 percent approval just after his inauguration.
In Frankfurt, the show drew a relatively young crowd which clapped, drummed on specially designed seats and gave performers a standing ovation at the end, preferring the powerful gospel-based numbers most of all. Plans are being laid to take it to other cities around Germany.
Spectator Hirschfeld brought her 21-year-old son David, who will recommend any future shows to friends “for the music and the dance,” but said he thought an early scene where women go to a spa to relieve the tension of daily life was “pretty confusing.”
Having visited the United States, he said: “What's up with that? I don't think they go to the spa that often.”
Two other shows have already put the US president on stage meanwhile, “Obama On My Mind” in London, and “Obama: The Musical” in Nairobi.