Her Campus NYU recently had the privilege to attend Michelle Obama’s “Broadway Shines a Light on Girls Education” at Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in Manhattan. The event was emceed by Stephen Colbert, and showcased a variety of performances from Broadway’s finest, including musical performances “Beautiful,” “Waitress,” “Wicked” and “The Color Purple.”
When the lights dimmed, indicating the start of the afternoon’s much-anticipated show, the audience applauded in approval. First on the stage was the cast Broadway’s “Beautiful,” a musical about Carole King’s rise to stardom. It was a different experience to see Broadway show songs performed out of costume. The lead actor, Chilina Kennedy, wore a simple blue maxi dress. Whether intentional or not, the outfits made the experience more personal and special, like we were getting to see the cast sing the songs as themselves rather than their characters. The beautiful and talented performance set the bar high for the afternoon, and each performance that followed truly met those standards.
After the a long and well deserved applause for the first performance, Stephen Colbert took over the stage, funny, witty and elegant as ever. He graciously introduced Michelle Obama, speaking about her important work on girls’ education worldwide, while still managing to keep the mood light with jokes about the First Lady’s tendency to tell everyone to eat their veggies.
Following Colbert’s witty remarks, the event’s host, First Lady Michelle Obama herself appeared before the fervent audience. After making gracious welcoming remarks, the First Lady delved into sharing about her “Let Girls Learn” global initiative, which is focused on, “…helping adolescent girls attain a quality education that empowers them to reach their full potential.” FLOTUS ardently emphasized the compelling role education played in her own life, declaring that “…education was power”, proposing her urgent call to action to the audience.
“More than 62 million girls around the world are counting on us to be their voice,” Obama said. “And I intend to keep speaking out on their behalf not just for the rest of my time as first lady, but for the rest of my life. I hope that you all will join me.”
Following FLOTUS, worldwide admired musician Sara Bareilles herself entered the stage, surprising everyone in the room. Although mostly known for her angelic voice timbre, Bareilles shared that she had written the music and lyrics to the Broadway musical show, “Waitress.” Not to mention, “Waitress” is the first-EVER Broadway musical with an exclusively all-female creative team. (Cue intense cheering and waving of pom-poms in the air.) In a nutshell, the show is centered around the story of, “..expert pie-maker Jenna, who dreams of winning a baking contest and escaping happiness…but must find strength within herself to build the life she wants.”
Two songs from the show were effortlessly performed. The first being “A Soft Place to Land” soothingly sung by Charity Angel Dawson, Stephanie Torns, and Jenna Ushkowitz, and the second called “I Didn’t Plan it” was fiercely performed by Charity Angel Dawson.
The next speaker was her majesty, Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, who effortlessly walked onto stage and began speaking about her advocacy work related to girls’ education and empowerment. Not only has Queen Rania established several initiatives in children’s welfare, including The Jordan River Children Program, but she also developed “Madrasati,” a public-private initiative to recondition 500 public schools in Jordan.
Long-time Broadway fans were in for a real treat. After hearing from the queen, Jennifer DiNoia and Carrie St. Louis walked onto stage. Holding hands and smiling at one another, the powerful duo then entranced the audience with their heart-warming performance of “For Good” from Broadway’s beloved, “Wicked.”
The voices that made the biggest impact that night were three young women who came on stage and told their own stories in the struggle for girls’ education. The first was Noor Abu Ghazaleh, a young woman from Jordan. She spoke about the ways people are fighting in Jordan so that young women there can be educated. Despite the power and conviction behind her words, I noticed that her hands were shaking as she spoke. This only made Noor’s words resonant more with me, because despite her nerves she knew what she had to say was too important to go unheard.
The second to speak was Summyka Qadir from Pakistan. She spoke about her journey, from going to med school to becoming a doctor. Despite struggling with extreme poverty, Summyka went on to go to the best school in her region.
The third young lady to speak was Hamila Robert from Malawi, and unlike the other two women, Hamila spoke in her native language, which was then translated into English. Hamila speaking in her native language struck me most. I felt the emotion behind what she was saying, despite not being able to understand it. Hamila told the story of her arranged marriage at age fifteen to a man over thirty, and how she was taken out of school because of it. However, because of a group of mothers who aided Hamila, the marriage was annulled and she was able to go back to school. Overall, these three remarkable ladies all espoused the same message: the importance of girls education around the globe.
The momentous evening continued with remarks from The First Lady of Malawi, Dr. Gertrude Mutharika about the issue of young girls not having access to education and the actions of the Malawi government to subjugate this. The doctor, dressed elegantly in a white and red dress, spoke about how she, alongside the education ministry, successfully passed a law preventing girls under the ages of eighteen to marry in Malawi. These girls have also been registered full time into school, and the ministry will see to it that they complete their higher education and make it to college.
The wonderful ceremony came to a close with two powerful performances by Tony award winning Cynthia Erivo and the cast of the Broadway show “The Color Purple”. Safe to say, Cynthia’s dynamic melodies in “I’m Here” and “The Color Purple (Reprise)” brought the audience to tears, earning her a well deserved standing ovation.
The event was an admirable experience and an ingenious way to raise awareness about the issue of girl’s education worldwide. Through music with strong female leads and songs about getting by, the message was well blended into the culture and spirit of Broadway. Overall, the cinematic celebration with an astute message was the highlight of our Monday evening here at Her Campus NYU!