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Jeff Miers: 'Hamilton' reacquaints popular music with language of protest

Popular music has needed to reacquaint itself with the language of protest for a good while now. It’s in the music’s DNA, particularly in this country, where the field hollers of slaves, the blues, folk music, 1960s rock 'n' roll, '70s soul, and nearly every offshoot of these have been at their most incisive when they attempted to speak truth to power.

But the last place I thought the voice of righteous outrage would come from was the world of musical theater, especially from mainstream Broadway.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” which runs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 9 in Shea's Buffalo Theatre, is a story that essentially follows a hip-hop storyline. It’s also a play that focuses on the non-white roots of our country. It’s an immigrant’s tale. That immigrant just happens to be one of our country’s Founding Fathers.

“Hamilton” was going to be a politically charged piece of art from the beginning. As the Guardian pointed out in March 2016, on the day  Miranda was visiting the White House and being told by Michelle Obama that his play was “the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life,” a Trump rally in Tampa, Fla. found the then-candidate stoking fears of Mexican immigrants to rapturous applause from a crowd adorned in red baseball caps. Somewhere between the two events beat the heart of America.

In the time since that Guardian article, “Hamilton” has become a vehicle of protest. Miranda has exuberantly gotten into the act, performing pieces from his play at Immigration Policy protests, curating his own playlists of protest songs via Spotify and lending his talents and compositions to the March for Our Lives, a protest aimed at the government’s inactivity on gun control.

All of this in addition to the now legendary mid-show pause by “Hamilton” actor Brandon Victor Dixon (playing Aaron Burr) to address then-Vice President-Elect Mike Pence. “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,” Dixon said.

“We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.” Pence was not happy.

At marches and protests that seem to be an all-but-daily occurrence during the Trump presidency, protesters of varying ages are singing songs from “Hamilton.” While it’s true that protest music has never gone away, it’s also true that this is the first time in decades that protest music has fully infiltrated the mainstream.

As Mary Grace Garis at wrote, "Hamilton" is “a searing reminder that America is very much founded by immigrants facing persecution, and that our freedom, likewise, was fought for by immigrants.”

*Related: Details on Shea's ticket lottery for "Hamilton."


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