I’m going to catch hell for this, I know it, but I’m afraid I can’t help expressing my opinion on the idea of gender blind casting in the theatre. In short, while it can work in some cases, in many others, it simply doesn’t. Case in point: The latest Broadway smash musical Hamilton, is looking to cast women in some key roles:
Washington and Burr as portrayed by women? Am I the only one that sees a problem with this idea? We’re not talking fictional characters here, such as in The Odd Couple, which has cast women in the roles of Felix and Oscar. In Hamilton, we’re dealing with people that really existed. Big difference as I see it. While gender bending is nothing new, just because it can be done doesn’t always mean that it should be done. I think that many an audience member would have trouble accepting the idea of both Washington and Burr being portrayed by women, especially in Washington’s case. Every time you pull a dollar bill out of your pocket, there is his image staring back right at you. Burr might not be as recognizable a figure as Washington (his main claim to fame was killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel), but it’s still plenty obvious that in the annals of history, he was a man, as was Washington.
Some have pointed out that in Shakespeare’s time, men played the roles of women on stage. This however was an unfair comparison, as in that day and age women were forbidden from performing on stage. It was considered unseemly, and acting as a profession in general was not held in high regard a sit were. In our day and age however, as this is no longer an issue, the idea of either gender playing any role seems to be paramount. Even in film, sometimes characters can be written with no particular gender in mind This was the case in the landmark science fiction masterpiece, Alien. The character of Ripley, which vaulted Sigourney Weaver into stardom, was originally written with no gender in mind.
Hamilton however, would do a disservice to reality by casting women in roles that clearly were meant to be portrayed by men. You can’t simply toss aside history for the sake of art, at least not in this case.
The other question that bears asking is, why? Why do it? Will it serve the story better in any way? Will it make a point in some way? What about the playwright’s intentions? In his own words words, Hamilton’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda stated that,
“I’m totally open to women playing founding fathers once this goes into the world. I can’t wait to see kick-ass women Jeffersons and kickass women Hamiltons once this gets to schools,” (See article link above for a further explanation.)
I’m sorry if this sounds somewhat chauvinistic, but why would he want to confuse kids into thinking that the Founders were actually women, and not men? It’s a simple historical fact, and not some kind of value judgment. I guess as I read more and more about that era in history, I became more convinced that facts need to be told correctly, even if it is a musical theatrical production.
Maybe however, I’m just getting older, and less tolerant of change for change’s sake.