ASBURY PARK, N.J. — It’s not what you say, it’s when you say it.
Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band, one who is not shy about making pointed political statements, feels the cast of Hamilton: An American Musical bullied Vice President-elect Mike Pence when a cast member addressed Pence from the stage at Friday night's performance.
“It was the most respectful, benign form of bullying ever. But bullying nonetheless. And by the way, human rights must be won, not asked for,” said Van Zandt in a series of tweets on Saturday. “When artists perform the venue becomes your home. The audience are your guests. It’s taking unfair advantage of someone who thought they were a protected guest in your home.”
“A guy comes to a Broadway show for a relaxing night out. Instead he gets a lecture from the stage! Not a level playing field. It’s bullying. You don’t single out an audience member and embarrass him from the stage. A terrible precedent to set.”
Cast member Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, delivered a speech following the performance as Pence was exiting the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in New York City.
Dixon called on Pence to stay and hear his message:
“Vice-president elect Mike Pence, we welcome you and truly thank you for joining us at Hamilton American Musical,” said Dixon in the statement, which was distributed on social media by the Hamilton producers. “We sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
President-elect Donald Trump didn’t like it.
“Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!” Trump tweeted on the morning of Nov. 19. “The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”
Trump later tweeted on Sunday that Hamilton was "highly overrated."
Pence, also on Sunday, said that he was not offended by the Hamilton statement.
“I did hear what was said from the stage, and I can tell you I wasn’t offended by what was said. I’ll leave to others whether that was the appropriate venue to say it,” said Pence to Fox News Sunday.
For Van Zandt, it was about the civility of the moment.
“The statement is beautiful. And completely inappropriate at that time. And I would defend the cast’s right to be inappropriate forever,” Van Zandt said. “That statement may prove to be correct for these men in their new positions, we’ll see. But that doesn’t mean we have to lose our civility.”
Van Zandt knows his way around the Richard Rodgers theater as that’s where he and wife Maureen Van Zandt produced the hit “The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream.” The Van Zandts are joining with music man Paul Shaffer and Joe Grano of “Jersey Boys” fame to produce the upcoming “Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story.”
As for political activism, Van Zandt is best known for leading the 1985 “Sun City” album, which featured Bono, Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Run-DMC and more. The project called on artists to boycott Sun City in South Africa, which at the time was an apartheid state.
It was the most respectful, benign form of bullying ever. But bullying nonetheless. And by the way, human rights must be won, not asked for. https://t.co/JfN4yjq8jM— Stevie Van Zandt (@StevieVanZandt) November 19, 2016
Van Zandt did not endorse Pence or Trump’s politics in his tweets.
“Please don’t misunderstand,” Van Zandt said. “Everyone who is sane disagrees with his policies. This was not the time or place to do it is all I’m saying.” E Street Bandmate Nils Lofgren, on the other hand, had no problem with the timing of Dixon’s statement.
“I don’t see any (bullying) here. Bravo,” Lofgren tweeted. “It is ok to disagree. The audience had the freedom to boo. The statement was truth to power. Any chance you get to speak truth to power right now, you have to take it.”
Van Zandt later stated that the proper place to make such a statement as delivered by Dixon would be in the context of the play being performed, or on Election Day.
“How about IN THE PLAY! For starters. Just as Lin-Manuel Miranda (the creator of ‘Hamilton’) is already brilliantly doing,” Van Zandt tweeted. “And oh yeah, elections.”
Meanwhile, in Chicago Saturday night, a patron was escorted from the PrivateBank Theatre in downtown after shouting, "We won," and profanities during a Hamilton performance there. The line, "Immigrants / We get the job done," which is part of the show's Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down) number, triggered the outburst, according to a Chicago Tribune reporter who was in in the audience.