Inside the Richard Rodgers theatre the night Vice President-Elect Mike Pence was there, the cast of Broadway’s Hamilton tried to “lead with love,” offering a curtain speech urging the country’s future leaders to “uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us,” while outside the theatre cops stood with guns at the ready as boos and screams filled West 46th Street.
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS executive director Tom Viola was among the crowd outside the Rodgers; following the incident, he posted to Facebook and sent an email to his BC/EFA staff recounting his eyewitness account. Viola also shared his message with Playbill.com.
On the night of Pence’s attendance at Hamilton, Viola saw a performance of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 before heading over to the Richard Rodgers to assist the Hamilton team with the lobby buckets for donations to organizations such as BC/EFA.
Walking from one theatre to the next, Viola was met with a street filled with over-sized black cars, an EMS bus, about a dozen New York City cops, and “another six or more in helmets and military gear with AK47s” ready to block him getting to the Rodgers entrance, he writes.
“Outside there was a flurry near the front doors, cops scurrying to someone as the military with assault rifles pushed closer to us on and in front of the sidewalk,” Viola explained. “A little girl in her mother’s arms, caught just in front of me, standing next to her father and little brother began to cry. ... We stood together facing those huge guns, not aimed at us, but not pointed down. Ready.
“Without a count-off or any kind of leadership, many—nearly all—began to boo. Loudly. Some, like myself, shouted repeatedly ‘Shame!’ Lights flashed, the cops moved closer to the main vehicle where inside, through the windows in the back seat, I could see a shock of white hair, not near the windows but in the middle of the seat. The little girl hid her face in her mother's neck. The young women's husband wrapped his arm around her, their son standing close, wide-eyed. All of us caught for this unexpected moment together whether quiet or shouting.”
As previously reported, crowds gathered outside the Rodgers in protest. Police shut down West 46th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue in response and kept the crowd in check. Protesters held signs that read, “Mike Pence. History Has Its Eyes On You. Stop Being a Bigot”; as well as “All LOVE. Welcome to the present.”
The letter continues, “There has been some debate here tonight about manners, is booing appropriate? Let love and the theatre enlighten him and heal this divide. I disagree. Brandon Victor Dixon delivered a terrific, polite and strong statement on behalf of the Hamilton company at the curtain call and before the appeal. Well done and in that space, brave and appropriate.
“Earlier this evening I posted a quote from James Baldwin. It bears repeating: ‘We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression, and denial of my humanity and right to exist.’”
He added that his donation bucket in the lobby overflowed following the show.
Following the November 18 incidents, a Trump supporter attended a performance of the musical in Chicago on November 19 and interrupted the show by calling out to the cast onstage. Read more about the incident here.