When Vice President-elect Mike Pence went to the theater Friday night to watch “Hamilton,” the political story line of the hit musical suddenly took a real turn.
The musical biography of Alexander Hamilton, performed by an ethnically diverse cast, emphasizes on the role immigrants played in founding America. The show underscores values that on the surface, at least, clash with President-elect Donald Trump’s hardline stance toward immigrants. At the end of the show, a lead actor thanked Mr. Pence for his attendance and read a statement from the cast.
“We hope you will hear us out. ...We, sir, we, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights,” Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who played Aaron Burr, read to audience cheers. “We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf all of us.”
The message came after Mr. Trump chose three individuals, who have been accused of harboring racist and anti-immigrant views, to lead his national security and law enforcement teams this week, amid a series of anti-Trump protests in cities around the country after the election. The Broadway show’s creators said in interviews that they were initially wary about injecting political statements into the performance – but finally decided it was important to let their voices be heard.
“We had to ask ourselves, how do we cope with this?” Jeffrey Seller, lead producer told the New York Times. “Our cast could barely go on stage the day after the election. The election was painful and crushing to all of us here. We all struggled with what was the appropriate and respectful and proper response. We are honored that Mr. Pence attended the show, and we had to use this opportunity to express our feelings.”
The popular Broadway show utilizes hip-hop style music to follow the rise of Hamilton. It has been hailed for its revolutionary interpretation of history by using men and women of color to portray all-white historical figures, with an African-American playing Vice-President Aaron Burr and a Chinese-American playing Hamilton’s wife.
The reasoning behind the casting was that it serves as a reminder that American history was created by immigrants to the United States, while also pointing out that the founding fathers, fighting for freedom, also had slaves held in bondage, as show writer Lin-Manuel Miranda told The Atlantic.
“I think it’s a particularly nice reminder at this point in our politics, which comes around every 20 years or so, when immigrant is used as a dirty word by politicians to get cheap political points, that three of the biggest heroes of our revolutionary war for independence were a Scotsman from the West Indies, named Alexander Hamilton; a Frenchman, named Lafayette; and a gay German, named Friedrich von Steuben, who organized our army and taught us how to do drills,” Miranda said. “Immigrants have been present and necessary since the founding of our country. I think it’s also a nice reminder that any fight we’re having right now, politically, we already had it 200-some odd years ago.”
When the musical first hit the theaters, critics were already comparing the nature of the story with the current political situation, musing about issues of race, partisanship, and democracy in today’s society.
According to some of the theatergoers present on Friday, the performance of the song “Immigrants, we get the job done,” was given a standing ovation. A protester was also seen holding a placard with the song title outside the theater as Pence was leaving.
But Trump, among others, criticized the cast, suggesting that when a politician or leader is off-duty and relaxing, they shouldn't be subject to political messages.