Hamilton The Musical, the newest sensation to hit Broadway is sweeping the nation. It is being touted as a fresh new way to produce a Broadway play, introducing hip hop and rap into the lexicon of musicals. From the very beginnings, Hamilton has been turning heads, moving mountains, and making waves. Its unorthodox lyrics and beats help to give life to key American historical figures. The sick beats of the music are only part of why Hamilton is storming the nation. Of the 10 principle cast members, only one is a white male (in the role of mad King George). Hamilton is a racially diverse cast; one that is very rare amongst the streets of Broadway. Black and Latino actors play key American figures like Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Burr, and Madison.
But what makes “Hamilton” work so well is the fact that it’s a commentary on America’s past through the prism of America’s present, its future. It works because the historically white, male founding fathers are being played by a predominantly non-white cast of blacks and Latinos.
Hamilton the Musical is written by Puerto Rican American Lin-Manuel Miranda. After the success of his “positive-focused”(instead of gang bangers, drug dealers, and prostitutes) Latino musical “In the Heights,” Miranda was on vacation and read the biography by Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton. He was struck by the parallels of Alexander’s life with that of hip hop stars. He then sought to combine his love of theater to his love of hip hop. In May of 2009, Lin-Manuel performed the first song (entitled at the time The Hamilton Mixtape) at the White House’s Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word. This performance was uploaded onto YouTube and became an instant hit; so much so that the video was becoming a tool for high school history teachers. Thousands of people are being reintroduced to American history through this musical. “Through this musical, we all collectively learning a lot more about our nation’s history.”
The play is exclusively on Broadway currently. Yet the release of the musical soundtrack has reached millions. The Hamilton soundtrack went to number 1 on the Billboard’s chart for Rap and was number 12 on the Billboard’s Top 200. Hamilton has received a Grammy for the best Musical Theater Album. The White House even invited the cast to perform set pieces on March 14, 2016. Hamilton the Musical premiered in February 2015 as an Off Broadway play. The initial run was sold out before the first week. It moved to Broadway on August 2015. It centers around the life of Alexander Hamilton, a founding father, but largely remembered for his illustrious end. The opening words state the question to which the play grapples with,
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence, improvised, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar? The ten-dollar founding father without a father. Got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter.
It starts during the year 1776. The play goes through the fragile foundational years of America. From the depths of the Revolutionary War, to the growth from colonies to a unified nation, Alexander Hamilton is an equal player alongside the behemoths of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Interwoven through this historical account is Alexander’s personal life. His marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler, his deep friendship with her sister Angelica, and his torrid affair with Maria Reynolds. The play also explores the parallel, antagonistic relationship between Alexander and Aaron Burr. The musical ends with the death of Hamilton in 1804 at the hands of Burr. The incident which will later define Hamilton and Burr in our social historical memory. But it is much more then Hamilton and Burr.
The director Thomas Kail has stated, “This is a story about America then, told by America now.” It deals with the early stages and creations of structures and systems which are alive and well; the federal banking system created by Hamilton, the two party system, the interplay between the federal and state governments. It also highlights something that Lin-Manuel finds essential,
I think the biggest take away for Hamilton is pretty apolitical one, which gives me hope. We have been fighting about the same stuff for 200 years. Whether it is immigration, whether its foreign policy, whether it’s when are we a state when we are a country?…Learning how much we have been fighting about the same thing…We started fighting about these things, we make strides forward, and we make strides sideways, but we are still talking about these things”
Hamilton, is set in the illustrious American past, but is just as relevant today. Issues about representation, gun violence, immigration, and gender equality all play out during the production. The play highlights the fact that Hamilton is an immigrant, who throughout his life will fight that stereotype. His friendship with the Marquis de Lafayette helped the Americans in fighting off the British. They state in the show, “Immigrants, we get the job done.” (Yorktown) This theme has become especially relevant in light of the minority and immigrant verbal attacks done by Donald Trump and his presidential bid.
Hamilton, is based in our past, but can be seen as a way into our future. The dialogue of our nation is as active now as it was when it was forming. As the last song of the play states, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is on the verge of taking her qualifying exams in Women Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University. Her interests are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She has become focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. Recently she drove across country to learn Sanskrit at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it.