It's hard to believe it has been 5 years since "Hamilton" made box-office history exploring the life and times of Alexander Hamilton in a bold, fresh new way. Featuring a mostly-black cast singing mostly-black hiphop music, "Hamilton" became an instant success, launching to the top of the charts and generating enough revenue to become the 7th-highest-grossing musical in American history. Now, other theatre groups are following the example, hoping to achieve success by depicting various other aspects of American history from the new, hip perspective.
The most daring example is "Lee," a musical-biography of the life of Virginian General Robert E. Lee, an American figure most famous for his noble surrender in front of the Appomattox Court House. But, the proposal for this new musical immediately sparked controversy. Several critics worry that, while audiences proved willing—even eager—to overlook Alexander Hamilton's troubling history of slave-transactions, they might not be similarly willing to extend grace to other American historical figures—especially ones from the South.
"Outrage is kinda selective," one of Lee's writers noted, "you never know what people will be offended by, so you just gotta give it a try and see what happens." Broadway fans are already at each other's throats with conflicting opinions about the upcoming show. One musical aficionado opined,
"I happen to think its a great idea, honestly. You know, I haven't heard about anyone defacing or tearing down a statue of Alexander Hamilton, lately. I bet that has something to do with the Hamilton musical's popularity."
Another Broadway fan felt differently. She told our reporters,
"I think I'm going to feel weird watching a bunch of slaveholders who are black. I mean, I'm aware that black slaveholders existed in history. It's just, I kinda like not having to think about that kind of stuff. I like my history a bit more... black and white."
A spokesman for the theatre company also gave us her thoughts about the controversy and how she hopes her team will overcome it.
"Everybody assumes that their political enemies are one-dimensionally evil. With 'Lee,' we highlighted some of the lesser-known and under-appreciated elements of the general's legacy, like his opposition to confederacy, resistance to secession, and advocacy against the problematic 'Lost Cause' narrative that led future generations of Southerns down a dark path. We hope that our change of focus will help combat the tendency of Americans to polarize over historical topics."
The spokesman did not confirm whether "Lee" will reserve slave roles for white actors. The company still faces legal challenges to their "whites only" casting call.