'Hamilton' team protests after church production adds Christian themes

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'Hamilton' team protests after church production adds Christian themes
Lin-Manuel Miranda, center, as Alexander Hamilton in the musical "Hamilton" in New York, July 11, 2015. Lawyers for the creators of “Hamilton,” the record-setting musical that remains a worldwide draw seven years after its Broadway debut, protested after a Texas church put on an unauthorized production this weekend. Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

by Daniel Victor and Jesus Jiménez

NEW YORK, NY.- Lawyers for the creators of “Hamilton,” the record-setting musical that remains a worldwide draw seven years after its Broadway debut, protested after a Texas church put on an unauthorized production this weekend. Church performers changed some lyrics and introduced Christian themes that were not part of the original.

A pastor at The Door McAllen, a nondenominational Christian church in McAllen, Texas, near the Mexican border, claimed on Sunday that “the ‘Hamilton’ team” had given the church a license to perform its version of the musical on Saturday and Sunday. But after the church posted footage of the production online, they “were immediately contacted by a lawyer from ‘Hamilton,’” who asked them to remove it, the pastor said.

The church complied, “and she gave us the OK to continue” on Sunday, the pastor said.

“We are very grateful for the ‘Hamilton’ team,” he said. “Thank you so much for entrusting us with such an amazing, amazing play, amen.”

But Shane Marshall Brown, a spokesman for “Hamilton,” said in a statement that the team behind the musical does not grant amateur or professional licenses, and had not done so for the church. Lawyers representing “Hamilton” sent it a cease-and-desist notice after becoming aware of the production, he said.

The “Hamilton” team was further troubled by a sermon at the end of the church’s production in which a man said that God could help people with their struggles, listing homosexuality alongside broken marriages, drugs and alcohol. Brown said that “Hamilton” officials were not aware of the lyric changes or the sermon when they allowed Saturday’s show to go forward.

The staging of the unauthorized performance at the church was reported by OnStage Blog.

After the church responded to the cease-and-desist letter, the “Hamilton” team said it could move forward with another performance on the condition that it not be live-streamed or recorded, that videos and photos of the production would not be posted and that the church would not “mount any further productions,” Brown said. He added that “this limited permission” had been offered “without prejudice.”

The “Hamilton” team would discuss “this unauthorized production” in the coming days with the parties involved after vetting information about it, Brown said.

“The ‘Hamilton’ family stands for tolerance, compassion, inclusivity and certainly LGBTQ+ rights,” Brown said. “We are in the process of reviewing the unauthorized changes made to the script to determine further action.”

The Door McAllen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. Roman Gutierrez, the church’s senior pastor, said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News that his church is not anti-LGBTQ and that “everyone is always welcome.”

Clips obtained and published on Twitter by Hemant Mehta, a writer, showed several of the rewritten lyrics. Mehta, who is based near Chicago, said in an interview that he did not attend the play, and that the clips were sent to him by someone who wanted to remain anonymous.

In the song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” the lyric “I help to raise hundreds of children / I get to see them growing up” became: “I introduce hundreds of children to Jesus as they’re growing up.”

In “That Would Be Enough,” the original lyric is: “But I’m not afraid / I know who I married / So long as you come home at the end of the day / That would be enough.” That was changed to: “But I am not afraid / My hope is in Jesus / If you could just give him a chance today / That would be enough.”

A scene in which Alexander Hamilton repents for his sins and accepts Jesus Christ as his lord and savior, which was not in the original, was added.

“If a local theater did exactly what they did, without the gospel message at the end and without the Christian conversion parts of the show, there wouldn’t be any conversation about whether this is OK,” Mehta said. “Of course it would not be OK.”

Other lyrics were altered to put the production on a more church-friendly footing, including by removing most profanity and a reference to intercourse. The well-known opening line, which refers to Hamilton as a “bastard, orphan, son of a whore,” was changed to “scoundrel, orphan, son of a harlot.”

The church removed clips of the performance from its YouTube channel, which had fewer than 4,000 subscribers and a few hundred views on most of its videos.

U.S. copyright law grants churches an exemption that allows them to perform copyrighted music during religious services. The exemption does not extend to public performances outside of services.

“It’s stealing from the creative geniuses of the people who made the original,” Mehta said. “It’s not something you put together overnight, which means a lot of people must have been aware of what they were trying to do for months in advance.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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