The production is a focal point of the new HBO documentary, Siempre, Luis.
Most people are probably familiar with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, but his father Luis Miranda? Maybe not. That could change with the release of the new HBO documentary Siempre, Luis, which profiles the playwright’s father’s life as a Puerto Rican immigrant who became a tireless political crusader. The film also chronicles the elder Miranda’s efforts to help Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation, which included bringing a production of his son’s hit play to its shores. But as Siempre, Luis shows, the Hamilton Puerto Rico performance ended up causing quite a bit of controversy.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, and quickly became the costliest natural disaster ever recorded in the island’s history. According to Amnesty International, the hurricane killed nearly 3,000 people, caused tens of thousands more to lose their homes, and racked up over $100 billion in damages. In 2018, the Puerto Rican government estimated that it would take $139 billion for the island to fully recover from the storm, as NPR reports. But so far, nothing even approaching that number has made its way to the island. The idea of the Mirandas staging Hamilton on the island in 2019 seemed like a great way to bring some attention and funds to the cause, but the play’s Puerto Rican run didn’t go quite as planned.
Lin-Manuel Miranda already had plans to bring Hamilton to Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria, but after the storm hit, he decided to turn the performance into a fundraising event for the island, according to the doc. The goal was both to raise money for the recovery efforts, and to bring renewed attention to the island after the post-storm media-coverage had waned.
A Political Controversy
The root of some Puerto Ricans’ discontent with the Mirandas bringing Hamilton to their shores came from the playwright and his father’s support for PROMESA, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. The 2016 law was passed by the U.S. Congress and set up a financial oversight board of non-elected officials to recommend measures that would see Puerto Rico emerge from its government debt-crisis, according to NPR. But the board recommended austerity measures that were widely unpopular with locals, who see the board as representative of American colonial oppression over the U.S. territory, as The New Republic reports.
However, the Mirandas later changed their stance on PROMESA. "I supported PROMESA," Luis told the audience at a production of Hamilton in Puerto Rico. "It was the only way that we saw that Puerto Rico could restructure the debt. The unintended consequences of that junta that has become a sort of pseudo-government is something that clearly everyone should be against."
A Change Of Venue
According to NPR, Hamilton was initially set to take place at the University of Puerto Rico, with the show’s fundraising campaign investing about $1 million in the school’s theater. But the university had undergone some pretty devastating cuts under PROMESA. And as a result, a union of University employees threatened to strike over the cuts. As The Atlantic reports, the association of employees also sent the Mirandas a letter stating that demonstrations might occur if they staged Hamilton on campus.
In response, the production was moved to Bellas Artes, a government-run theater with stronger police protection just weeks before the play was to open. (A line of police officers even stood outside the theater on the night of the premiere.) This caused even more controversy, with the move suggesting to some that Miranda was siding with the government over the people, per The Atlantic.
All in all, Miranda’s Puerto Rican Hamilton performance completed its run without major incident, as shown in Siempre, Luis. It was merely yet another battle for the tireless Luis Miranda.
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