Obama Takes In a Broadway Show, but Shuns the Spotlight

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Former President Barack Obama and his eldest daughter, Malia, after watching a revival of Arthur Miller’s “The Price” in New York on Friday night.

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Christopher Lee for The New York Times

Barack Obama has kept a relatively low profile since leaving office last month, and he largely avoided the spotlight on Friday night — at least as much as a former president can when he is attending a Broadway show.

Shortly after the lights went down at the American Airlines Theater on West 42nd Street, there was a blur, and the brief shining of a flashlight. Three people quickly took their seats several rows back from the stage: Mr. Obama; his eldest daughter, Malia; and Valerie Jarrett, who was a senior adviser to the president.

A woman sitting nearby let out a small yelp, but most of the audience at the revival of Arthur Miller’s “The Price’’ did not realize they were watching a Broadway show with someone who was, until recently, the most powerful person in the world. The play, starring Mark Ruffalo, Danny DeVito, Jessica Hecht and Tony Shalhoub, centers on two estranged brothers and their quest to reconnect.

“Well, I actually didn’t know he was sitting in the row,” said Laralyn Mowers, 37, who lives in Astoria, Queens. She was sitting five seats to the right of Mr. Obama and did not realize he was there until a friend told her at intermission. “I had a really bad day and it all just changed.”

Ms. Mowers said she was actually irritated when the trio first came in. “Who is so rude to come in after the show starts with the flashlights and everything?” she said.

Mr. Obama wore glasses during the show. At one point during the second act, he and his daughter sat in identical poses: right hands pressed to their chins while intently observing the drama before them. Just before intermission, again in darkness, Mr. Obama, his daughter and Ms. Jarrett were whisked backstage to greet the cast and to take pictures with the crew. Once more, most of the crowd was oblivious to his presence.

After the play ended, the Obamas and Ms. Jarrett joined the crowd in a standing ovation for the cast, the most visible they had been all night. Minutes later, they were gone. The audience members who managed to see the former president were heard expressing surprise that he had been there.

The Obamas have mostly kept out of sight since President Trump’s inauguration. After leaving office, Mr. Obama and Michelle Obama went to the British Virgin Islands at the invitation of Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group. Mr. Branson challenged him to a kitesurfing contest. Mr. Obama won.

Photos of a smiling Mr. Obama kitesurfing and wearing his baseball cap backward set off a flurry of jokes on the internet and on late night comedy shows. A common thread: Was he ever coming back? Mrs. Obama was spotted by the Daily Mail leaving a SoulCycle class in Washington this week. And on Thursday night, the former president was spotted leaving a restaurant with Malia in New York City’s Little Italy.

The Obamas have shown a fondness for Broadway. In 2009, Mr. Obama whisked Mrs. Obama away from Washington for a Saturday dinner and a theater date, taking in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” Five years later, the Obamas attended a performance of “A Raisin in the Sun,” starring Denzel Washington.

Mr. Obama took both of his daughters to see a matinee performance of “Hamilton” in 2015. Last March, instead of leaving Washington, he brought “Hamilton” cast members to the White House to perform and to conduct a workshop with high school students. In November, Mr. Obama appeared at a fund-raiser for Democrats that featured a special performance of the hit musical.

Of course, Mr. Obama is not alone among politicians who attend Broadway shows.

Hillary Clinton has been spotted at four Broadway shows since her defeat in November, and was greeted with adulation.

In an episode that garnered much attention, Mike Pence, then the vice president-elect, was treated by a cast member to a brief statement about inclusion after seeing “Hamilton” in November. Mr. Trump, who helped finance a Broadway play in his 20s, and has said he is a fan of the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, was not pleased.

During Friday’s performance of “The Price,” a line from Mr. DeVito’s character, a furniture dealer, about the federal government being unreliable drew the biggest laugh of the night. Mr. Obama sat stone-faced.

“He said that he was happy that it was while he was not in office,” Mr. Ruffalo said during an interview after the show.

Correction: February 25, 2017

An earlier version of this article gave the wrong name for a class Michelle Obama took in Washington. It was SoulCycle, not Spin Cycle.

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