I am obsessed with Hamilton: The American Musical, and you should be, too. Why? Because Hamilton isn’t just an award-winning musical–it’s a cultural phenomenon that tells “the story of America then told by America now.”
It is topically relevant with American society and politics today while still providing top-notch entertainment for all types of people to enjoy.
Here at Catalina, people either love Hamilton or hate Hamilton. For those of you who have not been enlightened to the greatness that is Hamilton: The American Musical, it is a Broadway musical sharing the story of one of America’s own founding fathers: Alexander Hamilton. Why in the world would a musical about an old, dead guy be so widely raved about? Because the genius behind it (its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda) created the musical so that it is topically relevant with American society and politics today while still providing top-notch entertainment for all types of people to enjoy. Lin-Manuel was able to liken Alexander Hamilton’s story to that of a contemporary rap artist and then link rap and conventional showtunes as the basis of the musical.
Now for a quick history lesson: Who exactly was Alexander Hamilton? If you are a Hamilton fan, you already know who he was and then some; for others, you have heard of his name if you have taken U.S. History with Mr. Place, and you have seen his face if you have ever seen a ten-dollar bill. Nonetheless, most people do not know much about who Alexander Hamilton was except that he was a founding father and that he died in a duel with Aaron Burr. However, Alexander Hamilton was the first secretary of the treasury of the United States, and he created our financial system. From this information, he does not seem like the obvious basis for a hit musical; however, Hamilton’s formal accomplishments do not sum up all that happened during his short but eventful lifetime. After reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, Lin-Manuel realized Hamilton’s life was full of scandals, duels, and drama perfect for some entertainment. The musical focuses on Alexander Hamilton’s rise from a poor orphan from the Caribbean to George Washington’s right hand man in the Revolutionary War to his trusted aide when Washington became the first president. The musical ends with (spoiler alert!) Hamilton’s death after his duel with Aaron Burr.
One reason to be obsessed with Hamilton, and why I am obsessed with Hamilton, is because of the ingenuity behind its concept and its effective execution, both of which are mostly due to Hamilton’s founding father, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda, along with close friends and colleagues, worked for seven years to create what is now the musical. When he would explain he was working on a rap-musical about Alexander Hamilton, people did not see the connection or how that would work but because they knew Lin, they trusted that whatever it would turn out to be, it would be amazing. They were not wrong to believe in him. In 2009, Lin-Manuel was invited to the White House and he performed what was to become the opening number of Hamilton. The audience, including the Obamas, laughed when he introduced the piece, but by the end of the song, everyone, again including the Obamas, was on their feet applauding. This is the typical response from the time when people first hear about Hamilton to when they finally listen to it and realize how moving it is. With Lin-Manuel’s love for theatre and for hip-hop, he was able to successfully combine both styles in the musical to create this masterpiece.
Beyond the initial brilliance of successfully intertwining contemporary music with show tunes, Hamilton is made even better by the characters and actors behind the characters. Another crucial aspect to Hamilton is its racially diverse cast. All of the principal cast members are people of color. The Puerto Rican creator, Lin-Manuel, plays Alexander Hamilton; the three actors who play the first three presidents of the United States are African-Americans, and the lead actress is Asian-American. This diversity is necessary because Lin-Manuel embedded in Hamilton’s identity the idea of telling the story of the founding of America by the diverse inhabitants of America today. Hamilton could not be as successful as it has been if the cast were all old, white men. By including a racially diverse cast that reflects America today and using music less traditional for musicals, it brings Broadway closer to a less elite crowd and more available to all. It shows that Broadway musicals are not just for white people.
From its conception, Hamilton has attracted many celebrity followings along with popularity among the general public. Celebrities from Beyoncé and Jay-Z to Will Ferrell to Shonda Rhimes and many more have watched the musical at least once. The Obamas have seen the show multiple times and even invited the cast to perform in the White House. The show is in such high demand that the next available tickets are for May of next year. Seniors will be done with classes by the time a show has tickets that are available. While the low quantity of tickets makes the show less accessible, Lin-Manuel and those working on Hamilton are creating new ways for more people to watch the show live. Every day there is a lottery people can enter, and twenty-one people win front-row tickets for ten dollars (versus thousands of dollars). In addition to the lottery, there is often a “#Ham4Ham show” (known as Ham4Ham because winners give a “Ham” (ten-dollar bill) to watch Hamilton) that the cast hosts outside the Richard Rodgers theatre, when they put on an extra show including cast members, crew, or special guests as another way to give more to the Hamilton fan base. There is also a free show on some Wednesdays that New York City students attend if they in turn take a specialized curriculum about Alexander Hamilton and then perform an original piece based on what they learned on the Richard Rodgers’ stage for other schools and the Hamilton cast. These incredible experiences are just some of the many ways the minds behind Hamilton are working to make it available to as many people as they can, especially those who normally would not be able to attend a Broadway performance. Soon there will be Hamilton openings in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, a nationwide tour, and a production in London. While it is the single hottest ticket on and off Broadway right now, these expansions and its continual success ensure Hamilton will be available for a long time.
Now, on a more personal level, here is why Hamilton is so amazing to me. As I have mentioned before, it has made Broadway shows more available to people who were never interested in musicals before, but it has also opened the door of rap music to theatre kids. For me, I was a rap fan turned musical fan. I have joked before that I am the “Troy Bolton” of my class–basketball player turned theatre kid–and Hamilton definitely is mostly to blame. It was such a seamless transition because of its hip-hop style and contemporary diction that I became obsessed quickly. I have all the words from every song memorized. Those who have listened to the cast album can attest that it is beyond catchy for musical geeks and just plain catchy for everyone else.
I got to watch it this summer on July, and it was one of the best experiences I have ever had.
You might be skeptical as to how I can be so sure Hamilton is so amazing, but I can assure you as one of the lucky few who have had the privilege of actually watching the show that it is everything I have hyped it up to be. I got to watch it this summer on July 2nd, and it was one of the best experiences I have ever had. The performance was one of the last shows with the original Broadway cast, which is a big deal, especially for this musical, because the roles were tailored for many of the actors. Leslie Odom, Jr., who was able to humanize Aaron Burr, the villain, made the audience empathize with him even when he kills Hamilton. Plus, Lin-Manuel handpicked Daveed Diggs to play Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson because of his superb rapping skills and chose Chris Jackson to play George Washington before Lin-Manuel knew Hamilton would be a musical. I was sitting in what was probably the worst spot in the entire theatre, but I can attest that there truly is not a bad seat in the house. Just being in the room where it happened was enough. I only cried seven times because I had to tell myself to keep it together since the tears blurred my vision and impaired my view of the show. Also, because Hillary Clinton was watching at this performance, I could have been in the same room with the next president of the United States.
Now why would something that I make sound so wonderful be hated, like I said it was, at Catalina? Many people hate it because of the obsessiveness from others and me that can be annoying. So yes, I apologize for singing it out loud or making many Hamilton references, but it is relevant in everyday life, making it hard not to quote. During an election year with candidates knee-deep in mudslinging and scandals, Hamilton involves many current, political issues. Although you will probably get some eye rolls when Hamilton is mentioned at Catalina, when was the last time people, especially those who aren’t theatre enthusiasts, had a strong opinion on a musical? This show has surpassed the conventionality as a musical; it is a cultural phenomenon and an integral piece of pop culture. Hamilton incorporates social and political issues while reaching a broad audience and providing great entertainment and art.
This may still not be striking enough for you. If you cannot see the brilliance behind this Pulitzer-Prize-, Grammy-, and Tony-winning musical, or refuse to give it a shot even after reading this article, my humble efforts have been useless. I don’t see how you can say no to this, but I am satisfied you at least read up to this point. We know the theater kids already play Hamilton non-stop, but it didn’t feel right to throw away my shot at trying to explain Hamilton is genius. One last time, I’ll say that it is worth it to give Hamilton a shot.