Hamilton Cast talks politics from the stage
The ‘Hamilton’- Pence incident provoked another overwrought Trumpian bluster; but it’s also a case study about the ability of theater to influence. It illuminates the difference between song lyrics and prose and, ultimately, the difference between propaganda and the power of art to change the world. "Hamilton" stands on its own as musical theater presenting a powerful set of complex messages, or to paraphrase Ezra Pound, “language charged with great meaning.”
The controversial incident involved an actor, who during curtain calls, spoke directly from the stage to Vice President-elect Pence who attended the performance. To paraphrase the actor ‘this country was built by immigrants so please protect our current immigrants.’ He delivers the ‘cliff notes’ of the play’s message or, as Ben Brantley NY Times theater critic writes, “highlights sentiments that might otherwise go ignored.” Trump tweeted a demand for an apology and the dust-up went viral.
The point is, as Brantley later in the commentary admits, “…a great work of art should be sufficient unto itself.” (my emphasis)
Art can be a powerful force for political commentary and can influence. ‘Frost-Nixon’ will forever define the ex-president better than any history book or Wikipedia page. ‘Richard III’ is a vivid warning of the evils that happen when a nation’s leader is deranged, power hungry and unchecked. Verdi’s operas unified Italy more than any broadside – no curtain speech was needed to send the Italian audiences into the streets chanting “VERDI” (Vittorio Emanuele Re d’Italia) – the unifying rallying cry to elect a king for all of Italy).
Breaking the 4th wall not only diminishes the joy and exhilaration of the moments immediately following a performance, it separates the patron from the community that formed that evening. It breaks the spell; it makes the magical ordinary.
We must trust the art to stand on its own. I don’t agree with Mr. Brantley when he writes “woe to those who believe that the meanings between the lines will be widely read.” Rather, woe to those who emasculate those meanings with post-curtain diatribes. The most effective response to the 140-character tweet is the 120-minute musical. Ultimately it is the audience, the populace, who decides on change, not the politician. ‘Hamilton,’ the play, will energize the millions who see it and it is they, not one elected official, who will change the world.