The Christians at The Door McAllen church in Texas are ignoring that pesky “Thou shalt not steal” commandment this weekend and illegally staging a production of the musical Hamilton.
You can even see a preview of the show in this sermon from August 3 at the 27:10 mark:
Update: The Church has taken down the entire sermon featuring the promo. This is the clip they don’t want people to see anymore:
That’s not a cringe-worthy Christian parody of the show. It’s, like, the actual musical… or at least a high-budget attempt at replicating it.
Except Hamilton gets “saved” after his son gets killed in a duel.
And Hamilton allegedly says, “What is a legacy? It’s knowing you repented and accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ that sets men free. You sent your sinless son of man on Calvary to die for me.”
Also, according to reports, after the show ended on Friday night, a pastor came onstage to tell the audience that “God can help you tonight” if you’re struggling “with alcohol, with drugs, with homosexuality.”
So to recap: A Christian church in Texas staged its own unlicensed production of a musical, changed the story to suggest Hamilton found Jesus, and used the whole thing to tell people to stop being gay.
I’m not sure which of those things would infuriate Lin-Manuel Miranda most.
Here’s the (first) problem with all this: Hamilton isn’t a production you can perform anytime soon. Your local high school can’t do it for the spring musical. Neither can your local theater. The rights are not available to anybody yet, and they won’t be for a while.
That means if people put on their own version of it, like some theater students in Indonesia did a few years ago, the show’s producers could sue them for unauthorized use.
This wasn’t the first time this church illegally used performed a musical. Click to watch the video!
But wait! It’s even worse than that.
The Texas church live-streamed Friday’s Hamilton performance on YouTube… which is also illegal since it might dissuade people from purchasing a ticket to see the show (or watching the version on Disney+ that the company paid $75 million to obtain). What the church did is akin to sneaking a video camera into a movie theater and then posting your own copy of Top Gun: Maverick on YouTube. You’d obviously be breaking all kinds of laws. (The church later made the video of their musical private.)
Chris Peterson of the OnStage Blog also notes other potential legal issues:
Because there was a sermon at the conclusion of the performance, it’s possible The Door McAllen thought they were free and open to do what they did.
They were wrong. This exemption doesn’t cover dramatic secular works like operas or plays.
It also doesn’t matter if they didn’t charge money for tickets either.
I also don’t see a live pit. If they used backing tracks, that’s another issue as well. Backing tracks are often copyrighted, using without permission is also against the law.
Anyone who’s worked in theater would know all this. The people at RGV Productions, which put this show together, would undoubtedly know it. And yet The Door McAllen did it anyway.
But wait! It’s even worse than that.
Today, the church’s Eventbrite page for the show said the second (and final) performance was cancelled…
… but according to Howard Sherman, who first broke the news about this story, there’s a message from the church circulating among its members that says the cancellation is a lie.
Look at that statement: “You will still see the Eventbrite listing as “Cancelled’ however, we are able to proceed with tonight’s showing!” Who said they’re able to proceed? Why say the show has been cancelled?
At this point, it seems like church leaders know what they’re doing is a problem, to the point that they officially shut down the show… except their public proclamations don’t match up with their private actions. It’s not just shady; it’s illegal.
The fact that these cast members must have spent countless hours rehearsing for this show is irrelevant.
The fact that the church must have spent who-knows-how-many dollars to build sets and acquire costumes is irrelevant.
The fact that the church has apparently done this sort of thing for years, without getting called out on it, is irrelevant.
(All those old videos have also been made private on YouTube.)
There’s been a lot of backlash online to what this church is doing. Not because it’s a Christianized version of a secular phenomenon, but because this is theft no matter who’s doing it. It’s also an ethical failure: They’re ripping off the creative genius of several people and using it to spread a message that directly hurts the people in these shows and those they love.
While I haven’t been able to get my hands on a bootleg copy of their Friday night theft, I managed to grab a collection of clips from the show from the church’s Facebook page. They have since been removed.
If anyone has a copy of Friday’s performance—or, better yet, if you know someone involved with the production—get in touch with me. I have so many questions.
For now, the church hasn’t said anything about the show or the furor on social media. But they sure as hell are trying to scrub any evidence of their production.
***UPDATE***: On Sunday morning, The Door McAllen claimed it had received permission to perform the show from “the Hamilton team.” After they took the YouTube footage down, a(n unnamed) lawyer with the show supposedly “gave us the okay to continue last night.”
None of that explains why the show’s Eventbrite page listed the second performance as “cancelled” while the church secretly told people the show was still going on.
It also defies common sense. There’s just no way, in my mind, the producers of the musical would’ve sanctioned free performances of the show, with presumably non-union actors, all so the church could convert people to Christianity while spreading an anti-gay message to the audience.
I’m sure they’re lying. I don’t know if they’ll be punished for it.
***UPDATE 2***: Mission accomplished. A kind brother in Christ has sent me a copy of the *full production* that was downloaded before the entire video was taken off YouTube.
***UPDATE 3***: Here are some clips from the production…
***UPDATE 4***: According to the Dallas Morning News, the producers of Hamilton did NOT give the church permission to put on this show.
“Hamilton does not grant amateur or professional licenses for any stage productions and did not grant one to The Door Church,” the spokesperson said, adding a cease and desist letter was sent to the church on Saturday after the Friday performance.
Despite the cease and desist letter, the church was allowed to move forward with Saturday night’s show as long as they didn’t take pictures or video or livestream the performance… and promised to never do this again.
The Hamilton spokesperson added they would be “discussing this matter with the parties behind this unauthorized production within the coming days once all facts are properly vetted.”
“We would like to thank our devoted fans for bringing this to our attention,” the Hamilton statement said.
The question remains whether the church will face any punishment for this. But the bottom line is that the church lied about getting permission to stage this show. What they did was both illegal and unethical.