Why "Hamilton" in Puerto Rico changed venues weeks before opening night

By Camilo Montoya-Galvez

/ CBS News

"Hamilton" gets ready for Puerto Rico premiere

San Juan, Puerto Rico — Award-winning playwright and musician Lin-Manuel Miranda is widely revered in many parts of Puerto Rico, where the New York City-born "Hamilton" creator traces his roots. His family's hometown of Vega Alta, west of the capital, is adorned with several colorful murals of him and even a museum dedicated to his artistic and philanthropic work.

But after planning a three-week run of his Broadway hit on the island, Miranda and his musical encountered some unexpected hostility. As a result, Miranda and his team announced in December — just three weeks before the show's opening on January 11 — that the production would relocate from a historic theater at the University of Puerto Rico's Río Piedras campus to another theater in San Juan.

The university has a policy of limiting police presence on campus, which the "Hamilton" team believed was necessary because of potential protests during the production.

In recent months, the university has been roiled by student demonstrations against educational cuts, faculty layoffs and tuition hikes that were ordered by the federal fiscal board, which Congress established through the 2016 Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act — known as PROMESA.

Although "Hamilton" ticket sale proceeds will go to a charitable arts fund established by the Miranda family, some Puerto Ricans seized on the musical's symbolism as a celebration of American government to continue their criticism of the unpopular federal oversight board, which Miranda supports.

"The protests reflect the student and local discontent with America's foreign policy, which affects us negatively," Carlos Ariel Ortiz, a 43-year-old business administration professor at Ana G. Méndez University, told CBS News. "It is a communal cry of protest."

Ortiz said many Puerto Ricans feel like they have "no voice and no vote" to stop austerity measures imposed by the board, known locally as the "junta." Since it was established in 2016 to deal with the growing debt-crisis in Puerto Rico, the board has directed the island's government to make budget cuts to several welfare programs, as well as the educational system.

The relationship between the islands's residents and the "junta," Ortiz said, resembles a colonial system.

"Puerto Rico has been under the control of the fiscal board for some time. It's a federal entity which governs local politics. This highlights our colonial status. We are the only colony in the world," he said.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's father, Luis Miranda, who studied at the University of Puerto Rico, said he supports students' right to protest, mainly because he's a longtime activist.

"I do it all the time — I did it all my life," he told CBS News' David Begnaud on Wednesday.

But Miranda said the venue change was warranted.

"We had security concerns because the university doesn't have its own police, it's difficult for police to go in," he said. "So, if anything were to happen — even if the possibilities were remote — we didn't want to run that chance."

Miranda said one of his and his son's foremost goals was nevertheless achieved.

"But we leave behind what we set to do, which is to leave a first-class theater on the island," he added.

First published on January 10, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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