Unless you’ve been living in the depths of the ocean, Hamilton has made its way into your eyes, ears, and hearts. It’s a blending of genres that has everything working against it: a hip-hop, biographical musical about the history of the United States of America. Based solely on that alone, one would think this piece of art would be rejected by the masses. Instead, we have one of the most beloved pieces of theatre, which has already gone down in history as a massive success in every regard. However, it’s much more than that. In three short hours, Hamilton shifted and revolutionized the way in which I viewed history and casting/race in unexpected ways.
Not to toot my own horn, but I have spent countless hours in, around, studying, and thinking about theatre. I have been attending shows for as long as I can remember. I began studying theatre in high school, which transitioned into pursuing a degree in Theatre at the university level. Upwards of seven years of my life were focused on theatre and all it took was one contemporary musical to think so far outside of the box to break me down mentally and emotionally, only to build me back up.
Let’s start by mentioning that Hamilton IS as good as everyone says. The cynic in me went into my matinee performance anticipating the inability to live up to all the hype. How can a historical show about a founding father of the United States be of any interest to me? Hamilton deserves every accolade it has received and will continue to receive for years to come. It is no shock that the show is nominated for a record-breaking sixteen Tony Awards.
What was it that shook me up and re-wired my brain? Though it was staged rather conventionally, I realized quickly that Hamilton taught me just as much as it entertained me. Within the three hour run time of the show I learned and retained more information about the history of the United States than I had in 20 years of schooling. (NOTE: I do understand this is a work of art that takes dramatic license in multiple areas.) For one of the first times in my life, history felt accessible; it meant something to me. While studying in school I always struggled to understand the importance of history as opposed to focusing on modern occurrences – it felt distant and, honestly, boring. Little did I know that it was just as dramatic as the latest of season of Real Housewives of Insert-U.S. City-Here. Children are singing and rapping the soundtrack like it’s the latest Drake or Kanye album. Educational and current: two things I never thought a history class could be and yet, here we are! Walking out of the performance, I was curious about what I didn’t know in respect to how this nation was built.
Lin-Manuel Miranda (GOOGLE HIM AND LEARN EVERYTHING – TRUST ME) takes the narrative of one man and makes it the narrative of our nation. Never before did I think an 18th century story would feel so relevant in the 21st. The story and struggle of immigrants trying to claim a place in the United States sounds pretty similar to the nightly news, doesn’t it? With all the political craziness happening today, Hamilton is a nice reminder of who ACTUALLY worked to build this nation. The show woke me up.
Hamilton opened my eyes to more than just historical relevancy, it opened my eyes to the issue of race in casting. And yes, I do mean to use the word ISSUE. It’s time that our art has visibility that mirrors what is going on in our culture. I will say that the “theatre world” is far beyond Hollywood (i.e. film and television) in diversity and reflection of the culture that we live in. Hamilton employs a diverse cast on stage from the leads to the ensemble, all while looking back at the country’s past through the gaze of today’s distinct culture. The story deals with the complex relationship this country has always had with race. Would Hamilton be as poignant with a whitewashed cast? That question legitimately cannot be answered. It can be said though, that Hamilton has provided a safe-spot on Broadway for actors of color that did not exist in such a noticeable way. Again, don’t get me wrong; Hamilton is not the first show to do this. However, the show is bringing to the masses this conversation and providing visibility to a topic that is quite often swept under the rug.
Hamilton accomplishes color-conscious (NOT color-blind) casting. It is an intentional decision to take race into consideration in order to combat racism, provide opportunity, and consciously work against the appropriation of any culture. The idea behind color-blind casting is sound but at the same time, it actively works to remove race from the conversation of casting. Yes, I know I am getting into semantics on this topic but it is important to keep race in the conversation. We as a society should not be blind to race; we should be conscious and considerate of it.
As a privileged white male, Hamilton left a large mark on me. What makes Hamilton so special is the way it affects people in different ways. It is a story that means a multitude of things. My take away is guaranteed to be completely different than someone else’s. The take away could be purely entertainment based and that’s okay. I love that this show has sparked so many conversations into flames; conversations of history, music, race, casting, art, etc. To me, Hamilton is modern day Shakespeare. It’s specific and universal at the same time. It entertains and educates. Hamilton forces you explore yourself and THAT is what theatre and art need to do. [NOTE: please explore how AMAZING this Broadway season was before the Tony’s. This season has celebrated this wonderful and diverse world that we live in]
Cheers to Hamilton. Cheers to inclusivity. Cheers to diversity. Cheers to education.
Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.