In living color: The Obama portraits come to Boston

GBH Executive Arts Editor Jared Bowen joined Morning Edition to talk through this week's arts and culture highlights, which include the Obama portraits bringing some local color to Boston by way of the MFA and the Huntington Theatre's musical "Sing Street."

The Obama Portraits Tour

On view at the MFA through Oct. 30

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is the final stop of the tour for the famous portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively. While the paintings will not serve officially as the couple’s White House portraits, which were unveiled yesterday, they are still wildly popular in Boston and beyond. Bowen points out that “they were so popular [that], in fact, attendance doubled at the National Portrait Gallery when they were unveiled.” The portraits differ from past presidential depictions in that they take the Obamas out of the traditional formal setting, such as President Obama sitting in a wooden chair surrounded by flowers “that represent Obama’s time in Kenya, Chicago and Hawaii” instead of an enclosed office.

For the exhibit, the MFA invited community leaders to provide insight on how they see leadership through the arts. Community members provided art for “Portraits of Leadership,” in which Bowen says there are depictions of “everybody from Maya Angelou to Malala to Harrison Ford.” The resulting exhibit is “this whole conversation where art and leadership and expression come together.”

'Sing Street'

Playing at the Huntington Theatre at the Calderwood Pavillion through Oct. 2

This stage production, an adaptation of a 2016 independent film of the same name, was meant to open on Broadway until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The musical follows the story of 17-year-old Connor, who lives with his family in Dublin in 1982 and meets a girl at a phone booth. Connor invites her to be a part of his band’s music video — the only issue is that Connor doesn’t have a band.

While Connor’s journey to piece together a band drives the plot, Bowen says the heart of the story is found in the family unit. Contextualized by financial burdens that lead the family to make extreme sacrifices, Connor’s home life is affected by his siblings, whose personal struggles affect the family dynamic, and his parents, whose relationship is faltering.

The songs in the musical are influenced by their early '80s contemporaries, from Duran Duran to The Cure to Depeche Mode, and as Bowen describes, “the music becomes a form of expression. This is how they find their hope, this is how they get out of these really difficult circumstances, is to create this music.”

This is a scene from the musical "Sing Street." In this image five musicians perform on a stage, which is bathed in blue and purple light.  A lead vocalist is center stage, with one hand raised over his head as he sings. Upstage to his immediate right  is a keyboardist playing an electronic keyboard. To his immediate right is another keyboardist playing an electronic keyboard. Behind the vocalist, there are two guitarists. The one to vocalist's right is playing a yellow electric guitar, to his left the guitarist is playing a black electronic guitar.
Elijah Lyons, Michael Lepore, Adam Bregman, Gian Perez, Ben Wang performing in the musical "Sing Street," presented by The Huntington Theatre, onstage now at Calderwood Pavillion.
Evan Zimmerman The Huntington Theatre