The Revolution Led by “Hamilton”
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The world turned upside down five years ago with the premiere of “Hamilton,” a musical that discusses the life and legacy of America’s Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. Since its premiere, this show has gained huge global traction and become a Broadway fan favorite. All over the world, children, teens, and adults alike were listening to the soundtrack, and those who were able to snag the extremely coveted tickets got to experience the phenomenon that was (and still is) “Hamilton” firsthand. The show is still playing in the Richard Rodgers Theatre but is taking a hiatus along with the rest of Broadway due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the creator of “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, decided to release a filmed version of the show with the original Broadway cast onto Disney+ a year early on July 3, allowing a COVID-torn America to view it from the comfort of their own homes.
“Hamilton: An American Musical,” more commonly known as “Hamilton,” takes a look at one of the lesser-known Founding Fathers of the United States, Hamilton (Miranda), the first Secretary of the Treasury and creator of the modern-day U.S. financial system. Starting from his move to the U.S. from the Carribean Island of Nevis in 1757 to his death by a duel with his friend-turned-enemy Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) in 1804, “Hamilton” acts out his triumphs, defeats, and overall life story in just two hours and 40 minutes of song.
“Hamilton” is written by Washington Heights native Miranda, who also wrote the song lyrics and the music for the show. Director Thomas Kail, music director Alex Lacamoire, and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler worked tirelessly with Miranda, creating innovative music, choreographing challenging dance moves, and staging every scene of the show to make the musical as eventful as Hamilton’s life really was. And they succeeded tremendously. “Hamilton” has acquired quite the assortment of awards, from its 11 Tony Awards to the 2018 Kennedy Center Honors (which were given to the aforementioned creators of the musical).
Miranda was first inspired to create “Hamilton” after reading Ron Chernow’s biography “Alexander Hamilton.” The end result transcends all ideas of what a typical Broadway musical should look like. The cast of “Hamilton” in any city is almost exclusively people of color, with the roles of the Founding Fathers given to non-white actors. And the music of “Hamilton” uses predominantly hip-hop, R&B, and pop musical influences, which has not been done to the extent to which Miranda has done it (see “Non-Stop,” “Washington On Your Side,” “Guns and Ships,” etc.). Miranda bridges the gap between drastically different styles of music and makes them work in a way that has shaped the theater industry for good.
One of the best things about being able to see “Hamilton” at home is that you get an experience like no other. The cinematographer of the film, Declan Quinn, uses skillful camera angles to capture the slight movements, the changes in emotion, and the exact facial expressions of each actor. You are not just sitting in the front row of a musical. You are on stage with the performing actors, walking through the events as they unfold.
The much wider audience of “Hamilton” on the streaming platform, however, reignites some of the controversy that emerged during the musical’s early Broadway run. Critics of the show say that, though well crafted, the musical glorifies and romanticizes America’s Founding Fathers through song. The Founding Fathers who created our country on the ideals of freedom and liberty hypocritically participated in the institution of slavery and the oppression of other minority groups, such as women. And Miranda agrees with the critics. “All the criticisms are valid,” he says in one tweet. In an interview with NPR, he goes on to say that “None of [the Founding Fathers] did. None of them did enough.” Since “Hamilton” really doesn’t go in-depth about this part of American history, it is important to keep in mind that no matter how great the musical is, the historical figures it portrays were problematic and supported dehumanizing and racist ideals.
“Hamilton” is not just another musical. Nor is it a musical that will eventually fade away over time. “Hamilton” is more than that. It takes the life of an immigrant Founding Father and tells the story of his fight and legacy. And at a time during which our generation is calling for social justice and an end to systemic racism, “Hamilton” showcases that the dream of more diversity on screen and in the theater can become a reality. This musical has opened the conversation of representation in the theater industry and is here to stay. Miranda says it best: “Hamilton” is “a story of America then, told by America now.”