Broadway History Pop Culture

For better or worse, “Hamilton” is the ultimate American musical

It is very fitting that Disney+ has chosen to release the Hamilton movie in time for the 4th of July. After all, there is no other musical that encaptures the brilliance, but also the tragedy that is deeply embedded into the fabric and history of the United States of America.

In case you’ve lived under a rock for the past years, Hamilton is a musical created by Lin-Manuel Miranda that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary of the United States. As uninteresting as this person might seem, he is, in Miranda’s words: “the embodiment of hip-hop”.  The musical had an instant success and it later went on to win 11 Tony Awards, one GRAMMY Award and a Pulitzer Prize.

“Immigrants, we get the job done”.

Its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda has stressed that his biggest concern was making sure that the show remained accessible, especially as tickets sold out seconds after being released, and some of them were even resold online for thousands of dollars. Now, thanks to Disney+ everyone will have access to this magnificent work of art, and will even be able to see its original Broadway cast performance. Because that is the thing that makes the Disney+ movie so exciting: it’s not an adaptation of the musical, but a recording of one of their first performances.

Alexander Hamilton is an immigrant who arrives with nothing in what is now New York only a few years prior to the Independence War. There he meets George Washington (played by Christopher Jackson), who will become his mentor, and Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.), his friend and rival. Washington raises up through the ranks of the army during the war and becomes a fundamental piece in the foundation of the United States. In fast-paced raps and beautiful ballads, the show narrates Hamilton’s vision for a fair and free society, as well as the ins and outs of the politics of a country that is on the process of being born.

What I personally loved about Hamilton was its fabulous storytelling, its character arcs, and how music and leitmotifs emphasized them. I was fascinated by the relationship between Hamilton and Burr: two people with the same objective, but two very different strategies to achieve it, and how they end up taking something from each other’s perspectives but also sacrificing their friendship in the process.

Hamilton’s ideals have not yet come true

However, what makes Hamilton inspirational and fundamental in a time like the one we are living is that the ideals that Alexander Hamilton fights for in the show, and the issues that he sees in America have not changed in its 250+ years of history. Even its author admits that. In a recent interview, Lin-Manuel Miranda said that “This is a country with beautifully written ideals that have fallen short ever since those ideals were written down”.

Slavery. Immigration. The extent of American influence on external affairs. Gun violence. Women’s rights. Taxation. The writing of history. The secrecy of political deals.

All of these aspects take on a fundamental role in the musical. After all, Alexander Hamilton is an immigrant himself. He debates with Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs) about the latter’s use of slave work in his plantations. His best friend, John Laurens, dreams of leading the first all-Black battalion. Two main characters die as a result of gun violence.

Hamilton showcases the amazing history of America and the ideals of the people that created it. It’s an inspirational story about chasing your dreams and fighting for freedom. However, it’s also a way of reflecting on all the work that still needs to be done in order to make those ideals come to life.

“History has its eyes on you”

One amazing thing that the stage production of this musical did was to have a diverse cast. The only white actor in the whole show was Jonathan Groff, who plays King George. Miranda has stated in different interviews that he wanted to tell the history of America then, with people that show how America looks like now. It’s not color-blind casting, it’s a conscious decision, and, in my opinion, it’s an amazing one.

Many people have felt represented by the story of Alexander Hamilton, and its revolutionary ideals that we now praise in History classes. In fact, Miranda has stated in a recent interview that he feels “very proud” of the links that people have created between his work and the recent Black Lives Matter protests. He mentions his happiness in seeing people carry signs with quotes from his musical, such as “History has its eyes on you” and “Tomorrow there will be more of us”.

“It’s the language of revolution,” says Miranda.

It was then and it continues to be today.