Broadway's 'Hamilton' under fire for controversial casting call

Lin-Manuel Miranda performs in  "Hamilton" on opening night on Broadway on August 6, 2015.

Story highlights

  • Groundbreaking Broadway show under fire for "NON-WHITE" casting call
  • Musical uses hip-hop to tell historical tale, features diverse cast
  • Show creator says cast "looks like what you see when you get on the A train to go to work"

New York (CNN)Broadway blockbuster "Hamilton" has been praised for casting mostly black and Latino performers in place of America's founding fathers.

But the Great White Way's newest hit musical has come under fire for a casting call that sought "NON-WHITE" performers.
The controversial notice was posted this week on Hamilton's website and on the trade site backstage.com. It soon circulated all over social media with tweets, retweets and Facebook posts that elicited mixed reactions.
The show's producers said they regretted the confusion the notice may have caused.
"It is essential to the storytelling of "Hamilton" that the principal roles -- which were written for non-white characters (excepting King George) -- be performed by non-white actors," the producers said in a statement.
"This adheres to the accepted practice that certain characteristics in certain roles constitute a 'bona fide occupational qualification' that is legal. This also follows in the tradition of many shows that call for race, ethnicity or age specific casting, whether it's "The Color Purple" or "Porgy & Bess" or "Matilda." The casting will be amended to also include language we neglected to add, that is, we welcome people of all ethnicities to audition for 'Hamilton.' "

An updated casting call

And indeed, the producers did amend their casting call later Wednesday.
The updated version keeps the phrase "non-white actors" in the notice, but it's no longer all capitalized. Other noteworthy parts:
-- The disclaimer at the bottom: "Performers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds are encouraged to attend."
-- They are not auditioning for King George, the one traditionally white role.

A different kind of musical

The musical's songs blend rap, hip-hop, R&B, classic Broadway and even a little operetta to tell the story of the Caribbean-born, French- and Scottish-heritaged Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers.
The cast is multiethnic, including African-Americans as Aaron Burr, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and a Chinese-American as Hamilton's wife, Eliza. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show's creator, is of Puerto Rican ancestry.
But as the musical begins to expand outside of New York City, the casting notice reverberated negatively with human rights lawyer Randolph McLaughlin.
While the artistic license of casting certain players in a musical should be respected, the lawyer believes the advertisement is unlawful.
"You cannot advertise showing that you have preference for one racial group over another," said McLaughlin, the co-chair of the civil rights practice group of the Newman Ferrara litigation group in New York.
McLaughlin said New York law does not allow certain defenses for employers and is expressly intended to provide broad protections for those who work or live in the state.

'You can't express racial preference'

"I don't know how a producer in the 21st century can think this is OK," he said. "Even when the intention is obviously good, you can't express racial preference. This is an issue we have been fighting for decades and it started for black people. Imagine if the casting call was for WHITES ONLY. Al Sharpton would have a picket line. Listen, Idris Alba might not be the best person to play James Bond, but he should certainly be allowed to audition for the role if he wants to."
In a statement, the Actors Equity Association said it had the show amend the language when the notice was submitted for posting on its own casting call.
"All of our calls have the following language: Performers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds are encouraged to attend," the statement said.
The association had requested that producers take down the notice.
Producer Jeffrey Seller said in a statement: " 'Hamilton' depicts the birth of our nation in a singular way. We will continue to cast the show with the same multicultural diversity that we have employed thus far."
In an October interview with CNNE, show creator Miranda said the casting of blacks and Latinos as the founding fathers is meant "to eliminate any distance between the contemporary audience and the story."
Miranda said the point is the cast is supposed resemble America now: "It looks like what you see when you get on the A train to go to work."
"We're trying to make the struggles of the people on that stage identifiable to our audience and the fact that our cast looks like our country helps with that," he said.