Touted as the most diverse theater season in decades Broadway has
assumed another dimension of relativity by addressing today’s hottest topic:
immigration in no less than five productions so far.
This is a most prescient coincidence as all of these musicals were
in development on their way to Broadway years before the issue usurped the headlines.
In some cases the provocative lines or songs drew such surprising
and unanticipated responses shows had to be re-timed. And audience demographics
are changing as a result. Hispanics, Asians as well as African Americans are rapidly
filling up those seats.
The plays inspired by immigration and the American identity
originated here in the 1920’s with Abie’s Irish Rose and since then most
addressed waves of European immigrants: Jews, Italians, Irish, coming here.
Then the Latin influences emerged with that most graphic
depiction, West Side Story, while Asians got a rare production in Flower
Here are the shows and their iconic moments:
“We Are Americans” they loudly sing in protest in
this ground making musical which exposes the forced incarceration of loyal,
patriotic Japanese Americans from their homes to internment camps after Pearl
Harbor started WW II, the quest of the younger men to prove their loyalty by
enlisting in a similarly prejudiced army that sent them on almost guaranteed
death missions -a shameful example of racism and jingoism in our
history – does that sound familiar
A View From The Bridge
The only play of this group, written by Arthur Miller in 1955,
includes the desperate plight of illegal Italian immigrants seeking the American
Dream in a wary, often dangerous and unwelcoming society.
On Your Feet
The struggle and eventual triumph
of young Cuban immigrant musician Emilio
Estefan, and Cuban American Gloria to have their Latin music accepted into
American mainstream stops the show when a young Emilio shouts defiantly at
rejection from a record company “You should look very closely at my
face…because this is what an American looks like”. The show’s choreographer
Sergio Trujillo entered Canada illegally from Columbia before becoming successful
in America and most of the cast are of Spanish descent.
The forced uprooting of Jewish
families from their homes and villages in Russia to become part of a huge
immigrant migration, the lucky ones to America, is most heartrendingly dramatized
in the show’s closing number “Anatevka” as they bid farewell to their home for
uncertain futures (which the audience knows will end in the most horrific
immigration story – the Holocaust)
The ultimate success
story of one of our most celebrated immigrants, Alexander Hamilton, born out of wedlock,
raised in the West
Indies, and orphaned as a child, who
rose to international fame and immortality as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. An audience pleasing
moment in the show written by Lyn Manuel- Miranda, himself the son of
immigrants, “”Immigrants/We get the job done” always draws cheers from the
crowd. Are you Listening Washington?
Perhaps in a few years we’ll be attending musicals and plays about
immigrants from the Middle East (if they get here).