A church in Texas presented its own ‘Hamilton’ performance, but it turns out the official production says it didn’t have permission to do so.
Broadway’s Hamilton team issued a cease and desist order on a Texas church for what it called an unauthorized Hamilton performance. It then granted the church permission to perform the second of its two planned performances. But the team was apparently again caught off guard by a sermon that occurred after the show.
Relevant Magazine reported the church live-streamed its own version of the Broadway hit that had a Christian spin.
Lin-Manuel Miranda created the biography of American historical figure Alexander Hamilton. You don’t have to have seen it to know that Miranda took a few liberties with the story.
So one might assume, that it’s not unreasonable that a church could take a few liberties with Miranda’s work, right?
That’s where things get complicated.
CNN received a statement from the official Hamilton team stating that the production does not grant “amateur or professional licenses for any stage productions.” It did not grant one to the church in question, they say.
On the other hand, copyright law gives churches an exemption to perform copyrighted music during religious services, CNN says.
That’s why churches can perform copyrighted worship music (often far too loudly) during a worship service without being sued.
But there are catches. The law does not allow for streaming or distribution of those performances. It also doesn’t allow the performances to extend to any other public performances outside of service.”
Relevant adds that even if permission were granted, “making significant script edits is generally forbidden.”
The church said it sought and received permission to stage its performances from Hamilton’s legal team.
But the Hamilton team tells a very different story.
‘Hamilton’ team releases statement on church’s performance
The Broadway Hamilton team released a statement published on the OnStageBlog. Team Hamilton claims it only learned of the church’s performance the day after its first show. It immediately sent the cease and desist letter that next day ahead of what would have been the church’s second performance. The letter also demanded the church remove all traces of the show from its website and various social media accounts.
The statement includes several conditions that the church had to agree with to be able to perform its second show:
- It couldn’t be live-streamed or recorded;
- No photos or videos of the performance could be posted;
- No further productions could be held.
In addition, the statement indicates the team gave “limited permission without prejudice.” It also says they would review the production once they have all the facts.
That is to say, this isn’t over.
The statement also includes a thanks to the show’s fans for making them aware of the “unauthorized production.” That also supports the notion that the team was unaware the church production was taking place.
But there’s more.
The second performance ended with a sermon in which a pastor compared being gay to alcohol and drug addiction.
They can’t have thought that would go over well, considering Miranda himself is a supporter of LGBTQ rights. He just recently helped launch a Latinx LGBTQ support program.
Given that the team is reviewing the situation and, in its letter, reserved its rights in the situation, if I were the church, I’d be a bit nervous. If I actually did have a license — which should be in writing — I’d make copies and keep them close by.
I’m a Christian. But I’m a Christian who respects the law, including copyright law. Maybe that makes me a little different.
But if I wanted to capitalize on the success of a show like Hamilton and then work in Christian themes, it would dawn on me that the safer way to proceed would be to create my own production from the ground up.
That way, I wouldn’t have to answer to any deep-pocketed teams from Broadway and their attorneys.
If the church properly got a license and followed all of the restrictions that license imposed, then that should be the end of the controversy. I hope the Hamilton team will make that clear.
But if that’s not the way it happened, I hope it serves as a reminder to churches that just because they think God is on their side, that doesn’t give them the right to rewrite copyright law.
It looks like we’ll have to wait and see how this plays out.