“That was good,” deadpanned emcee Stephen Colbert, as an audience of visiting dignitaries, school children, and a few rows of raucous Girl Scouts took their seats following a standing ovation for a performance by the cast of Broadway’s Waitress.
The event, “Broadway Shines a Light on Girls’ Education,” held on Monday (Sept. 19) at the Bernard B. Jacobs theater in New York’s Times Square, gave First Lady Michelle Obama the opportunity to reach out directly to the spouses of the Chiefs of State and Heads of Government participating in this year’s United Nations General Assembly, about her global Let Girls Learn Initiative. “I want to be clear that as First Lady of the United States I have no budget of my own for programs, I have no authority to make or pass laws, and I cannot issue any kind of executive orders,” she told the audience, before reminding them that, “When people hear the stories of girls who aren’t in school they want to help. And as spouses of world leaders, so many of us here in this room have platforms to tell these stories and bring people together to take action for these girls.”
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With performances from the female-focused casts of Wicked, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Waitress and The Color Purple, as well as remarks from Queen Rania of Jordan, and Dr. Gertrude Mutharika, the First Lady of Malawi, the program had the feel of a high wattage pep rally in support of attaining education for girls around the globe. Cynthia Erivo, who recently received the Tony for her performance in The Color Purple, had the audience on their feet with a powerhouse rendition of that show’s “I’m Here.”
But the performer wasn’t interested in her own accolades. “The thing about me that is most important is that I’m a young Broadway actress, but I’m also female,” Erivo told Billboard. “So I have a vested interested in other young women learning and being confident in themselves.”
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And it was the stories shared by three young women: Noor Abu Ghazaleh of Jordan, Summyka Qadir of Pakistan, and Halima Robert of Malawi, who spoke about overcoming poverty, child marriage and indifference in order to attain an education that really brought the house down. In her earlier remarks, Mrs. Obama spoke of the girls she’d seen “stand up and be champions.” And as the three women walked off stage and the Girl Scouts clapped and hollered for what they’d just heard, there was a sense that this next generation of girls won’t let anything stand in their way as they champion the right to learn for themselves, and for girls just like them, all around the world.