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A theatregoer of faith recounts her epiphany at Hamilton
I first saw my faith reflected on the secular stage when I watched Hamilton on Broadway. As someone who grew up attending a Baptist church for more than 20 years, I didn't expect to find it there. But I definitely felt the presence of God at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
I'll set the stage: During a thundering downpour in July of 2015, I won the outdoor Ham4Ham lottery by what seemed like divine intervention, the week the show opened on Broadway. Despite being a political science major in college at the time, I didn't know much about Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, just that it had a lot of buzz. As I walked into the theatre and sat down in the front row, I sensed something otherworldly was about to happen.
Back then, the show was not yet an international phenomenon -- its Grammy-winning original cast recording hadn't even been released. So every song was a surprise to me. During "It's Quiet Uptown," Hamilton's ode of mourning to his dead son, when Miranda sang the lyrics, "A sign of the cross at the door. I pray; that never used to happen before," I burst into tears. As the number continued, costar Renée Elise Goldsberry almost seemed to whisper, "There's a grace too powerful to name." That's when I saw Christianity -- my Christianity -- represented on stage, big time.
Let me take a moment to acknowledge that, blessedly, there are gobs of masterful works of theatre, on Broadway and beyond, that explore themes of faith and religion. There are celebrated musicals such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, the epic Angels in America and even a professional New York-based company Fellowship for the Performing Arts that mounts theatre from a "Christian worldview." However, I didn't expect to encounter God at Hamilton, which is what made the experience so powerful.
Sitting in Row CC, Seat 111, I was rapt as Miranda expressed the grace that I struggle to explain to others -- the grace I read about in 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 and John 1:14. I felt my years of spiritual upbringing being honored rather than mocked. Mercy was given a moment in the spotlight, lines of forgiveness were uttered and my soul soaked in the experience. God met me where I was, in the middle of a Broadway musical.
Hamilton opened me up to other unanticipated instances of faith at the theatre. I was awestruck by the depth of compassion and spiritual cleansing I experienced watching two characters, one Muslim, the other Jewish, harmonizing on "Itzik's Lullaby" in The Band's Visit. At Once on This Island, I connected to the villagers' reliance on their gods for guidance and deliverance in the face of tragedy. In Come From Away during "Prayer," I was moved by characters of three different faiths -- Christianity, Islam and Judaism -- finding common ground and compassion in a time of chaos.
I know that my heart craves reminders that I am a spiritual being, that I am not alone. You can be a person of any faith -- or no faith -- and feel your soul stirred at the theatre. It's a place of empathy, community and understanding.
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Top image: Phillipa Soo, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anthony Ramos in Hamilton. Photos by Joan Marcus.