De­bate over ‘Hamil­ton’ speech ex­poses post-elec­tion cracks

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Mark Kennedy

NEW YORK>>Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump de­manded an apol­ogy from the cast of the Broad­way mu­si­cal “Hamil­ton” a day af­ter an ac­tor in the hit show de­liv­ered a pointed mes­sage about di­ver­sity to his run­ning mate who was in at­ten­dance. The speech aimed at Mike Pence prompted an­gry re­sponses from lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives alike — un­der­scor­ing yet again the frac­tious af­ter­math of the 2016 elec­tion.

The bit­ter back-and­forth came af­ter the vice pres­i­dent-elect caught Fri­day night’s per­for­mance of “Hamil­ton” with his nephew and daugh­ter. A mix­ture of boos and cheers could be heard in­side the theater as Pence took his seat. When the show ended, Pence was asked by a cast mem­ber to hear a pre­pared speech af­ter the cur­tain call from the mul­tira­cial and mul­ti­cul­tural cast, say­ing it is con­cerned about the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“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,” said Bran­don Vic­tor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, the na­tion’s third vice pres­i­dent, as his fel­low ac­tors joined hands. “We truly hope that this show has in­spired you to up­hold our Amer­i­can val­ues and to work on be­half of all of us.”

The un­usual ad­dress quickly went vi­ral and Trump on Satur­day tweeted that it was “very rude,” ar­gu­ing that Pence was “ha­rassed” and theater “must al­ways be a safe and spe­cial place.” He urged the cast to apol­o­gize. Dixon re­sponded on Twit­ter that “con­ver­sa­tion is not ha­rass­ment sir” and added that he ap­pre­ci­ated Pence stop­ping to lis­ten.

Pence had ducked out be­fore Dixon fin­ished the un­prece­dented mes­sage but heard the full re­marks from the hall­way out­side the au­di­to­rium.

Trump tran­si­tion of­fi­cials did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the show said none of the cast mem­bers would be avail­able to speak Satur­day.

Melissa Kremholz, of In­di­anapo­lis, the cap­i­tal of Pence’s home state of In­di­ana, at­tended the show Fri­day night and was see­ing it again Satur­day af­ter­noon. She said she could see how Dixon’s speech might be in­ter­preted as im­po­lite and gave Pence credit for com­ing, but backed the Broad­way cast’s right to ex­plain how un­easy many Amer­i­cans feel.

“I think it was re­ally im­por­tant for them to speak what they had to say be­cause the whole mu­si­cal talks about how our coun­try came to be and our Amer­i­can val­ues and how our coun­try was built on im­mi­grants and peo­ple of all dif­fer­ent back­grounds,” she said. “I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant that they ac­tu­ally spoke their minds and I think they did so very re­spect­fully, too.”

The show’s of­fi­cial Face­book page was in­un­dated with com­ments rang­ing from call­ing Dixon’s speech “dis­re­spect­ful,” ‘’in­ap­pro­pri­ate” and “un­called for.” Many threat­ened to not buy tick­ets to fu­ture per­for­mances. Tick­ets for the show are not avail­able for another year; “Hamil­ton” is sold out through Septem­ber 2017.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union weighed in on the side of the Broad­way cast, say­ing the First Amend­ment is a cor­ner­stone of Amer­ica “even if it some­times makes our lead­ers un­com­fort­able.”

“Pres­i­dent-elect Trump needs a re­fresher on his high school civics class. Amer­i­cans don’t apol­o­gize — not even to pres­i­dents or vice pres­i­dents — for the law­ful and proper ex­er­cise of their con­sti­tu­tional rights,” ACLU Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor An­thony D. Romero wrote in a state­ment.

But Noel Leifer, from Manch­ester, New Jersey, who was in line to see a mati­nee Satur­day with his wife, Peggy, said he un­der­stood why so many peo­ple felt that ac­tors lec­tur­ing the next vice pres­i­dent from a Broad­way stage were some­what im­pu­dent.

“It was a protest. It was a bit dis­re­spect­ful. They are go­ing to be the lead­ers of the coun­try. I didn’t vote for them — I think they’re poor can­di­dates — but they’re still go­ing to be lead­ers,” said Leifer, who was cel­e­brat­ing his wife’s birth­day with tick­ets he bought a year ago.

As for a boy­cott of the show, he didn’t think that would ul­ti­mately fly. “I don’t think too many peo­ple who have spent the money for this show are go­ing to boy­cott it just to make a protest state­ment.”

The mu­si­cal is by Lin­Manuel Mi­randa, who wrote the story, mu­sic and lyrics. It stresses the or­phan, im­mi­grant roots of first U.S. Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Alexan­der Hamil­ton and has a ter­rif­i­cally var­ied score, rang­ing from pop bal­lads to gospel to sexy R&B. It has been cheered for re­claim­ing the na­tion’s found­ing story with a mul­ti­cul­tural cast.

Mi­randa, in a tweet, said he was “proud” of Dixon and the “Hamil­ton” cast “for lead­ing with love,” be­fore re­mind­ing peo­ple that every­one is wel­come at the theater.

Mi­randa had been a big booster for the failed pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Hil­lary Clin­ton, in­clud­ing per­form­ing at an all-star fundraiser for her last month. The cast also put on a spe­cial “Hamil­ton” show at a Clin­ton fundraiser last sum­mer.

The per­son play­ing Alexan­der Hamil­ton that Pence saw was Javier Munoz, an openly gay ac­tor. Pence sup­ported nu­mer­ous ef­forts to ban gay mar­riage as gov­er­nor of In­di­ana and op­posed un­fet­tered fed­eral fund­ing for HIV and AIDS treat­ment.

Many in the Broad­way com­mu­nity quickly de­fended the ac­tions of the “Hamil­ton” cast, in­clud­ing new Tony Award-win­ner Cyn­thia Erivo, who mocked: “You want the theater full of peo­ple you have alien­ated to be pro­tec­tive of you?” And Josh Gad, a Tony nom­i­nee for “The Book of Mor­mon,” wrote: “I know the boo­ing up­sets some of you. But this is what hap­pens when you run on a plat­form of hate.”

Janise Gray, of Union, New Jersey, who saw the show Satur­day af­ter­noon, con­sid­ered the speech an an­guished cry from those fear­ful they will be pushed aside un­der Repub­li­can rule.

“One way or another, we want ev­ery­body to be rep­re­sented and the way the cam­paign was, it wasn’t feel­ing that ev­ery­body was be­ing rep­re­sented,” she said, adding that she was glad Pence came.

“From what I’ve heard, it sounded like it was fair and eq­ui­table. It was just a state­ment of ‘please rep­re­sent every­one. We are a di­verse coun­try and we need to be in­clu­sive,’” she said. “That’s what this coun­try was founded on.”

HAMIL­TON LLC VIA AP

In this im­age made from a video pro­vided by Hamil­ton LLC, ac­tor Bran­don Vic­tor Dixon who plays Aaron Burr, the na­tion’s third vice pres­i­dent, in “Hamil­ton” speaks from the stage af­ter the cur­tain call in New York, Fri­day. Vice Pres­i­dent-elect Mike Pence is the lat­est celebrity to at­tend the Broad­way hit “Hamil­ton,” but the first to get a sharp mes­sage from a cast mem­ber from the stage.

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