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Presidents on Stage: Respecting the Presidency

Below is my annual Presidents Day photo essay of a century’s worth of stage depictions of American presidents.

Nearly every president has been depicted on the stage at one time or another. There are currently three on Broadway — in a single show, “Hamilton” –– and the current officeholder is mentioned in “The Parisian Woman.”

“I think presidents are a natural topic for the stage,” said Bruce Altschuler, professor emeritus of political science at SUNY Oswego and the author of Acting Presidents: 100 Years of Plays about the Presidency “There is usually built-in name recognition and often passions for and against them. In our celebrity culture, we want to know more about what is really happening, either behind the scenes politically or in their private lives.” And, as he explains in his book, “often, by depicting past presidents, the authors hope to teach a lesson to contemporary audiences.”

Lincoln has been the star of more than a dozen Broadway plays, starting with Benjamin Chapin’s Lincoln in 1906; Washington is a distant second. But even more obscure presidents such as Rutherford B. Hayes have gotten their moments in the spotlight. Hayes and two other presidents were portrayed by Gene Wilder in “The White House,” a short-lived 1964 play by A. E. Hotchner that crammed in 24 of the presidents between John Adams and Woodrow Wilson.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged and read the extensive caption.

 

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About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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