I never really caught on to musicals – it wasn’t something I was exposed to. Until I heard the Hamilton musical soundtrack, that is. Living outside America meant that I wasn’t going to see the live show and that kinda sucked. I would listen to the complete soundtrack for hours, to the point where I can recite most of the songs from memory. Based on Chernow’s biography of America’s first Treasury Secretary, the musical is a wonderful tribute to the forgotten genius. He’s remembered for his creations, and by the ones who loved him, especially Eliza and Angelica Schuyler.
The musical is definitely worth the hype, especially now that it’s available on Disney+. I remember being ecstatic about this. I thought I’d never get the chance to see the musical, and I stuck with shaky hand-cam versions and listening to the soundtrack on repeat. Watching it in 4K was incredible, and I’ve rewatched it at least 4 times. The one good thing out of the pandemic is that Hamilton is available to a global audience. I’m hoping more musicals will follow this practice.
What I love the most about Hamilton the musical is its addressal of the women in his life. The Schuyler Sisters played a significant role in the making of Hamilton, and in his legacy. In reality, there are 15 Schuyler siblings, though seven died in childbirth. Eliza, Angelica, and Peggy are the oldest and are closest to each other.
His voluminous writing is preserved by his wife. Eliza helped Hamilton draft essays and correspond with heads of state, all while raising a large family. Along with raising eight children, she helped Alexander with his early drafts, including Washington’s “Farewell Address” and parts of his Federalist Papers.
Angelica Schuyler’s intelligence and wit are highlighted, and she serves as a great way for Hamilton to develop his ideas. The two sisters make huge sacrifices for Hamilton – Angelica sacrifices her happiness, and Eliza does what she can to continue Hamilton’s legacy. In reality, Angelica was already married when she met Hamilton, but the two did share slightly flirtatious letters when she was in England.
Angelica’s portrayal in the musical is what boosts it from good to great. She’s an intelligent woman who knows how the game is played. She sacrifices her own happiness for her sister but is never once bitter about it. We see her thought process in the musical, her nuanced understanding of current political society. She knows that, as the oldest, she’s expected to marry someone of similar social standing. She chooses a sensible option, knowing what role she is expected to fulfill. However, she continues to keep in touch with the Hamiltons, ready to lend an ear to Hamilton’s ideas.
Of course, we know that Hamilton isn’t the charming, trustworthy man he tried to be. Hamilton’s sex scandal covers a shift in American politics, and in his personal life. We see how his personal life affects his professional one. Though his name is cleared, his reputation takes a hit, and there are no more talks of moving politically further. On a more personal front, his relationship with the Schuyler sisters takes a huge step back.
Angelica returns to comfort Eliza, and not Hamilton. The sisterly bond stays strong, and here again, we see a testament to Angelica’s strength. She chooses to remain by her sister’s side, prioritizing family over the man she loves. There’s a song (that’s unfortunately cut from the musical) where Angelica is angry – angry at Hamilton’s betrayal. His treatment of her sister cuts deep, and the familial bond stands strong as she stays by her sister’s side.
Eliza also worked with the former First Lady, Dolley Madison, to raise money for a monument to George Washington, Hamilton’s mentor.
In Hamilton, Eliza removes herself from the narrative after reading about the scandal. Heartbroken, Eliza doesn’t try to defend her honor. In reality, she does destroy the letters, and we won’t know why. The musical’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, sees it as deliberate. The sentiment is reflected in the song, “Burn”.
It’s unfortunate that we don’t get to know what she said, but I think it’s brave. She withdraws herself, and she uses an incredible tactic – she stays out of his legacy. We see how important being remembered is to him, and she flips that on its head. The sentiment behind the song was heartbreaking and touching. What’s beautiful is that she continued to love Hamilton, enough to carry on his legacy.
We see Angelica providing a helping hand and a shoulder to cry on for Hamilton. They form a close bond because of her warmth and her wit. The musical fleshes out these pivotal characters, noting their importance. Hamilton may have been a genius, but he didn’t get there alone. He formed political connections because his father-in-law was a powerful, influential man. His wife was pivotal to his career, and he wouldn’t have reached such heights without her help.
The musical (and the biography) helped shine a light on Eliza’s efforts, and it’s not surprising to know that once again, a woman’s efforts took far too long to be recognized. Unfortunately, Hamilton isn’t perfect, and neither is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s newest work, In the Heights, a movie adaptation of his earlier musical. It’s no secret that In the Heights has a surprising lack of diversity, despite the story focusing on the Latinx community in New York.
DAMN DAMN DAMN THIS IS PAINFUL pic.twitter.com/A4TOwYwHlb
— numa perrier (@missnuma) June 13, 2021
Hamilton, too, has its fair share of injustices that the cast has had to deal with. Daniel James Belnavis, a cast member, posted an open letter on Medium detailing the struggles he faced as a gay Black man. It was appalling to realize that Hamilton, despite its laurels and praises, fell into the same trap that most movies and musicals fall into – that of under-representation, and of neglecting POC casts and crew members. It shouldn’t have to take cast members and audiences speaking out against this, only to receive half-hearted apologies.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musicals are incredible, and do provide a richer, more diverse view of history and society – there’s no doubt about that. However, they’re also flawed, in terms of representation. These ideas can and do coexist. It’s high time for Broadway to step up and listen to their audiences and their cast members, rather than continue to whitewash history.
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