As hundreds of thousands of people rallied across America in recent weeks protesting against Trump’s vicious immigration policies – brutally separating children from parents at the Mexican-US border and throwing them unaccompanied into the criminal justice system – Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of box office-obliterating, awards-decimating, superlative-defying, blockbuster stage musical Hamilton, was in the vanguard.
“We’re here because there’s parents right now who can’t sing lullabies to their kids,” said Miranda at a recent Washington DC march for the Families Belong Together campaign, referencing the more than 2,000 children separated from their families with no clear or coherent plan for them to be reunited.
We’re not going to stop marching and protesting until these families are reunited
Calling for “absolute humane treatment of those who come seeking asylum”, he added: “We’re not going to stop marching and protesting until these families are reunited.” He led the crowd in an a capella version of tender and powerful Hamilton number Dear Theodosia, the lyrics never more poignant: “If we lay a strong enough foundation / We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you / And you’ll blow us all away / Someday, someday.”
No cultural phenomenon has resonated more loudly in these politically turbulent times than the phenomenally successful Hamilton, which since 2015 has been selling out Broadway, Chicago and London’s West End, as well as multiple tours. Through the story of 18th-century Founding Father of America, Alexander Hamilton, and the American Wars of Independence, it is fiercely relevant today, and especially this week, as President Donald Trump brings a different brand of diplomacy to British shores.
In tune with Miranda, all associated with Hamilton have used every platform to issue a rallying cry for humanity, equality and social justice. Picking up the Olivier Award for his role as vice president Aaron Burr, actor Giles Terera delivered the now much-requoted line: “Diversity is not a policy, it is life.”
And Leslie Garcia Bowman, who plays British general Charles Lee in the West End production, points to another frequently shared Hamilton quote: “My favourite line, and it always gets a reaction every night, is when they say, ‘Immigrants, we get the job done’. It is incredible for us to say that because there are so many immigrants in our cast, me being one of them. And to own that line is something that we’re very proud of.” Such is its resonance that a Hamilton Mixtape track titled ‘Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)’ was released last year, with a video featuring rap stars Riz MC (Riz Ahmed), Residente, K’naan and Snow Tha Product.
“Even though the story is set in the late 1700s there are still so many topical issues part of human life all of the time,” observes 22-year-old Bowman. Like many in the cast, he has overcome his own obstacles to get into the spotlight. At 15, he was awarded a scholarship to Laine Theatre Arts in London. The problem was the New Zealander lived in Wellington and couldn’t afford the trip over. So he took to the streets to busk his way to London and seven years later is part of the biggest production in the West End.
“Even though it is an American story, we made the show our own,” Bowman says. “As Giles Terera said in his Olivier Award acceptance speech, diversity is not a policy, it is life. That’s something that we always try to be ambassadors of all the time, something our company really prides ourselves on; how diverse we are and that we get to share in so many different cultures and put it on a stage in front of London, which is such a diverse city.”
Bowman believes part of what makes the London production distinctive is down to the issues on stage being reflected by the experiences of the audience.
“It shows that a musical is so much more than a little song and dance on stage,” he continues. “This show is changing people’s lives and we see it. Every night when we take our bow and the house lights come up a little bit and we see the looks on people’s faces and the emotions that they’re feeling. I think the change is different for each person. Then people come to the stage door and they’re trying to express themselves but it’s hard to find the words. It’s happy and sad, funny and painful. It’s an honour to be able to share it eight times a week.”
In the same month as the 2016 election, Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance on Broadway and was famously booed by members of the audience before a cast member said from stage: “We are the diverse Americans who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents.”
Trump tweeted a demand for an apology from the “very rude” cast, but Bowman is happy to extend an invitation for Trump to attend a performance in London.
“Regardless of who he is and his policies, everybody’s got something to learn from the show.”
Hamilton plays at Victoria Palace Theatre, London
Image: Ross Lesley-Bayne