Hit musical reimagines past to speak about social issues of present
THE SANTA CLARA
April 14, 2016
Tupac, Biggie and-…Alexander Hamilton. Men who all grew up from nothing and created a legacy built on their words before their lives ended staring down the barrel of a gun. If it sounds like a stretch—a nonsensical coupling of an old white man with subversive, historically black music, that’s because it is. That is, until the opening lines of the hip-hop musical ask you to imagine “how a bastard, orphan, son of a whore…(grew) up to be a hero and a scholar.”
Inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography on Alexander Hamilton, the musical was brought to life by Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2015. The musical leads audiences through the rise and fall of one of America’s forgotten Founding Fathers, complete with scandalous affairs, ego-driven power players and a young nation either on the cusp of greatness or failure—much like its titular hero.
Hamilton isn’t necessarily likable. He’s high strung, stubborn and never knows when to play nice. But his greatest flaws are also his greatest strengths. In the end you can’t help but root for the man who is just as “young, hungry and scrappy” as his new nation.
In practical terms, the musical isn’t very accessible. Most Santa Clara students can’t drum up the spare cash to fly to New York and see it, let alone find a ticket since it’s been sold out for months. Yet, “Hamilton” is one of the most thematically accessible shows on Broadway, for its content and lyrics. Underlying the rags to riches story of Hamilton are echoes of the Black Lives Matter movement, immigration debates and the ever-widening political gap between our two parties—all details that can be gleaned from the cast album alone.
One of its more noteworthy qualities is the casting of minority actors for white roles of everyone from George Washington to Aaron Burr. Miranda wanted to make “Hamilton” diverse from the beginning. He effectively juxtaposes the history of the nation’s inception with the scrappy heroes of today. And just as Hamilton once did, modern activists have sought to take back the national narrative, highlighting the rumblings of revolution prevalent today.
The play has been praised for creating the most diverse cast on Broadway right now, but the casting is not without its critiques. Recently, some critics questioned the validity of using minority actors to romanticize Hamilton’s actions and paint a rosier, progressive view of the era that is not backed by historical facts. Despite the cast, the story still centers on people who were in privileged positions and neglects the role minorities played in the revolution.
Hamilton himself was most certainly not the person the play makes him out to be. Today, he’d be part of the one percent clamoring for big business. But “Hamilton” is part history, part musical and all about who owns the story and who gets to be in charge of the narrative. White men founded this country because they had the social stock to do so, but having a minority cast reminds us that a diverse array of people are currently taking charge of the nation’s narrative. They are the audience the musical is trying to reach and encourage to continue vying for change.
The musical already won a Grammy for Best Theater Album this year and is expected to sweep at the upcoming Tonys ceremony. It’s an immensely entertaining and catchy piece of storytelling as long as the musical is taken not as law but as a gateway into founding history and as a possible parallel to the history of today. Its spirit, like its main character, is relentless and brimming with optimism for the future. “Hamilton” reminds us what individuals can do in politics when we make the most of our shot.
Contact Perla Luna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.