Even before this weekend, when Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of "Hamilton" in New York City, the popular Tony-winning musical has played an unusually outsized role in American politics.
Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda famously workshopped the opening song at the White House in 2009, and seven years later brought the entire production back to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. earlier this year; it’s been called the quintessential musical of the Obama Years.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton saw the show this summer, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was shown asking for tickets in a leaked email. And then there was Pence’s visit, marked by boos from the crowd, a pointed statement from the cast on stage, and an entire weekend of tweeted denunciations from the president-elect on Twitter. Here are a few pieces of the conventional wisdom on "Hamilton", and why they’re wrong:
Hamilton is the reason Hillary Clinton lost.
Niall Ferguson, in the Boston Globe, argued last week that the election of Trump “may have been a vote against Hamilton”- in the sense that it was a rejection of the Obama idea of a multi-cultural America. Many other commentators have used Hamilton as a stand-in for a certain elite liberal attitude about popular culture that is hated by the anti-elites of Trump’s base. There may be something to that second part, but no- Hamilton didn’t cause Hillary Clinton’s defeat any more than Lena Dunham, Sarah Silverman or the lack of Jon Stewart on the Daily Show did.
The conservative boycott of 'Hamilton' is going to doom it
The show is sold out for the better part of 2017 on Broadway, with a touring production set to go, so I’m not too worried about its economic fortunes. But if the boycott did make a dent in demand? Hey, more tickets for the rest of us.
'Hamilton' is just for the 1 percent
It is true that tickets to the musical are extremely expensive and hard to get, and therefore the vast majority of Americans can’t hope to ever see it on Broadway. However, there are many other ways to engage with a popular musical- namely, listening to the cast album, which theater kids in remote parts of the country have been doing going back to the Rodgers and Hammerstein era.
Miranda himself said in a recent interview with Marc Maron that he learned most of what he knows about musical theater and storytelling from listening to Broadway cast albums. In "Hamilton’s" case, there was also a recent PBS documentary about the show that featured many of the musical numbers, as well as multiple performances on awards shows. Hell, the entire score of "Hamilton" is on YouTube:
The barrier of entry to see Hamilton on Broadway is very high. But to hear the music, and become a buff of the show? The barrier is much, much lower.
The 'Hamilton' cast was so rude and mean to Mike Pence!
They really weren’t. They gave a respectful, well-prepared statement, which included asking people not to boo the soon-to-be-veep, and thanked him for coming.
The cast was out of line because people go to the theater to get away from politics. "Hamilton" is, literally, about politics. Including about one of Pence’s predecessors as vice president, who shot the hero.
The theater is supposed to be a safe place!
This was, of course, another Trump tweet. But it's wrong, too: Theatrical history is full of moments that were both uncomfortable and challenging for the audience. And of course, a U.S. president was once assassinated in a theater. #BoycottHamilton #Immigrantswegetthejobdone