Hendel was one of only few people who knew ahead of time that the first lady was coming. The cast was only told 20 minutes before Obama's arrival. She and her friends arrived shortly after 8 p.m. as the overture was ending.
The audience also cheered wildly when the musical made reference in the first act to one of Kuti's nicknames: Black President. Said Hendel: "The whole place just exploded."
At the end, the first lady's group gave the musical a standing ovation and Obama stayed to greet and congratulate each sweaty member of the cast as they passed. "She was hugely gracious," said Hendel, who watched the night's performance with his wife, Ruth, also one of the show's producers.
"It's a wonderful feeling that this show would have Mrs. Obama come to it."Broadway shows have lured Obama before. She and daughters Sasha and Malia attended performances of "Memphis" and "The Addams Family" in March. And she and her husband saw "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" during a date night in 2009.
A production opened this week at London's National Theatre with Sahr Ngaujah, who originated the title character on Broadway. The Broadway run, which features Kevin Mambo in the title role and Patti LaBelle as his mother, ends Jan. 2