Before Obama left office and Springsteen on Broadway opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the 59-year-old politician requested the 71-year-old musician's presence at an event for his staff that had gone through the "really remarkable but grueling process" of his presidency with him.
"We get this idea, 'Maybe we can just do something small and quiet and private, 100 people. Maybe Bruce will be willing to come in and just do a quick concert,'" Obama recalls.
Springsteen agreed and, when he arrived at the White House with his wife, Patti Scialfa, she warned Obama that she had no idea what her husband had planned. Upon receiving the invitation, Springsteen knew he didn't want to "make a big noise" with a full band, but did want to do more than an acoustic set.
"I said, 'Well, what could I do to make that a little different? Well, I’ll read from my book and I'll play a few songs,'" Springsteen recollects, noting that he read from his 2016 memoir, Born to Run. "... I realized reading from the book [sounded] a little stilted because the way you write for your book is not the way you speak. So I started to paraphrase all writings in the book as if I was just telling a story."
That performance ended up being "90 minutes of what became the Broadway show." Its transition from the White House's East Room to the Broadway stage came at Obama's urging.
"You were sitting right in front of me and I was thrilled to be there, honored to be playing for you," Springsteen says. "You got up afterwards and... you just kind of came over and leaned down into my ear and you said, 'Hey look, I know you did this just for us, but this ought to be a show somewhere or something.'"
"And then one thing led to another," he continues. "We said, 'Well, I need a really small space because I need complete quiet for this to work out as [it did] in the East Room.' We went out and we found a little... theater [with] 900 seats on Broadway."
"You ended up having to work a real job," Obama quips of the eventual Broadway show, which featured the musician singing, playing guitar and piano, and retelling moments from his autobiography.
That "real job," which ran for more than 200 performances between 2017 and 2018, ended up being "one of the best times" of Springsteen's life, the musician says.