The current president of the United States has been depicted largely satirically on out-of-the-way New York stages, but nearly every past president has made it to Broadway over the last century, as the photo essay below makes clear. There are three on Broadway currently — in a single show, “Hamilton”, which opened Off-Broadway the day after President’s Day in 2015, and is today celebrating its fifth Presidents Day on Broadway.
The future president may be depicted on stage during this Presidential Election year, thanks to Theater in Asylum’s The Debates 2020, a show that uses transcripts of the actual debates to create a theatrical adaptation.
“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,” he told me. “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 caption.