EXCLUSIVE: Deadline’s Jeremy Gerard and Jujamcyn Theatres president Jordan Roth talk about the state of the industry, the only stipulation being no holds barred.
GERARD: Vice President-elect Mike Pence was in town on business this week and did what most visitors do on a trip to New York — he took in a Broadway show. He chose Hamilton and, according to reports, bought tickets rather than pull strings for comps. Pence might have picked Something Rotten! Or Waitress or even Cats. Instead he opted for the most brilliant but also the most politically charged musical in a generation, one whose most celebrated applause line is “Immigrants. We get the job done.”
Depending on your point of view, Pence’s choice of Hamilton for his night on the town was either an olive branch (as Governor of Indiana, he opposed marriage and other civil rights for homosexuals, inflamed Islamophobia, supported the defunding of Planned Parenthood and generally upheld values abhorrent to a community that was vocally and financially pro-Hillary Clinton) or a calculated risk (if Newt Gingrich loved the show, how bad could Hamilton be?).
As Pence was beating a hasty retreat on Friday night, Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr in the show, stepped out of the line during the curtain call and implored the VP-elect to hear a message from the company. He extolled the show’s values and hoped that Pence would take with him to Washington in January Hamilton‘s message of inclusiveness and inalienable rights for all Americans.
Pence listened and appeared to take the communiqué — along with audience members’ “Boos” that grew in volume during the performance — in stride (though one theatergoer at a neighboring show reported that by the time Pence exited the Richard Rodgers Theatre, West 46th Street resembled a war zone complete with police in riot geared armed with semi-automatic weapons).
In contrast, Pence’s boss-to-be, New York native Donald Trump, did what he does in his free time: Deploying more exclamation points than your typical Broadway ad, he took to Twitter to demand an apology! from the rude! Hamiltonians, while insisting that the theater be a “safe place.” On Saturday, he added an attack on Dixon, which he later deleted, though not before it had been seen and shared through social media. As the comments on our coverage of the incident are showing, folks are predictably divided, with some shouting Bravo! to Team Hamilton for seizing the moment to confront a divisive political figure and others admonishing liberals to accept the fact that they lost, and get over it.
Vice President-elect Pence seemed nonplussed by what had happened at Hamilton. In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Pence said he would “leave it to others” to decide whether the theater was an appropriate place for a political message. He even offered this: “Hamilton is just an incredible production and just incredibly talented people,” Mr. Pence said. “It was a real joy to be there.” He added that when he heard booing he told his daughter, “that’s what freedom sounds like.”
That response is as eloquent as the President-elect’s bombast. But Trump’s misreading of Broadway as a “safe place” is as uninformed as you’d expect from someone whose experience of the theater is limited, to put it generously. Broadway is where great Americans including Clifford Odets and Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman and Lorraine Hansberry, Yip Harburg and Oscar Hammerstein, August Wilson and Jonathan Larson and Stephen Karam and Lin-Manuel Miranda incited thinking! right next door to the escapist comedies and musicals. Whatever its flaws, Broadway has been a “safe place” for the open-minded and even the rude.
ROTH: “That’s what freedom sounds like” indeed: That’s the whole point of freedom, of America, of Hamilton the man and the musical, and even of Twitter, our new bully pulpit. Speaking our minds is our freedom. Speaking our minds so we can be heard is our art. That’s the point of theater — both of making it and of seeing it. If you don’t want your mind challenged and your heart opened, don’t come to the theater. That’s what our place is safe for.
But Pence must have already known that. Known what Hamilton is about, who performs it, and what kind of reception he was likely to receive. So now we’re all spending the weekend debating a Broadway curtain speech instead of the latest cabinet choices or court settlements or conflicts of interest accusations. And we should be debating all of it, including the speech. That’s our freedom and our obligation as citizens and as artists. Always watch the artists. Not just what artists create, but how their government reacts. The safety of the artist is the safety of the democracy. Watch closely.
And while we’re watching Hamilton, let’s not forget that were it not for Alexander Hamilton creating the Electoral College, Hillary Clinton would be our next President. But we’ll save that for the next musical, We Threw Away Our Shot.
GERARD: I’m not sure who the “we” are in your comment, but I suspect plenty of readers are about to tell us.