As a History student, it’s kind of expected that I would be interested in things like period drama, historical fiction, retellings of the past… which is all true. The inaccuracy sometimes pains me, which is the double-edged sword of studying History, but it’s one of my great loves. That being said, when Hamilton first came onto the off-Broadway stage, I didn’t pay it much attention. I had spent so much time reading about the American political system, I reasoned, that there was no point in looking into this new, edgy interpretation of the founding fathers. But then, one day on Tumblr, everything changed.
I was reading a quote, and I had no idea where it was from. The lines read “I’m past patiently waiting, I’m passionately smashing every expectation, every action’s an act of creation”. I thought it was a motivational quote from one of the study blogs I followed! But it was a line from Hamilton. Scrolling through that blog led to more quotes, gif sets, stills, and a video of a young Lin Manuel Miranda performing the first song of the musical, Alexander Hamilton at the White House for President Obama in 2009. I was hooked.
For those of you who have managed to escape the hype that has spread across the world, Hamilton is a musical about one of the founding fathers of the USA. Alexander Hamilton was a revolutionary who fought in the war at the side of George Washington, and became the Secretary of the Treasury. He created Wall Street, negotiated the location of the capital, and founded several of the long lasting institutions that make up America today.
The musical incorporates rap and hip hop music as well as a diverse ethnic cast to, as Miranda put it, represent America today in a story of America in 1776. The musical swept the Tony’s, nominated for a record 16 awards and winning 11. It’s sold out in the States until next year, and is set to come to the UK in late 2017. I honestly can’t wait!
I think the retelling of Hamilton’s story is fundamental to understanding the state of America today. Miranda has managed to engage people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities in the life of the forgotten founding father, and reengage people with Broadway. Through complex interwoven musical motifs and expressive lyrics, even just listening to the Official Soundtrack makes you fall in love with the flawed but phenomenal creators of the USA, and gives you a wealth of history many people wouldn’t actively seek out. I certainly can reel off more key dates to the formation of the states than I could before I listened to the soundtrack!
Not only is the soundtrack available, but Hamilton truly harnesses the power of social media and thrusts the musical even further into the future, whilst remaining accurate to the past. Every day, new footage from behind the scenes or the Ham4Ham shows outside the theatre is released on YouTube and Snapchat, and there is constantly an active engagement with the fans. It’s refreshing to see a musical reaching out to the younger generations, diversifying their cast and making sure that no one feels left out. To be quite honest, I don’t think I can ever see George Washington as a white man again, and Hamilton will always be Latino to me now. They have made sure to embed Hamilton into the very heart of the USA just as his story will always be at its foundations.
Although I have the songs memorised, I have refrained from watching the bootlegged recordings of songs from the show. I really respect that Miranda has asked not to be bootlegged, and I can understand that it’s his baby, it’s his brainchild, and he should have that request upheld. I hope that Hamilton will continue to lead the developments in West End and Broadway and swiftly record and release a more affordable and accessible version of Hamilton online, something that is only really available for the long-running money-raking shows like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. If Hamilton continues to make the show accessible and in touch with the younger, less wealthy generations who want to watch musicals but can’t afford to or can’t get to New York, it will no doubt remain one of the most popular musicals of the twenty-first century. Plus, who can get enough of Leslie Odom Jr. and Daveed Diggs?
Cover Image courtesy of https://feministspectator.princeton.edu/2016/02/24/hamilton/