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The hit musical “Hamilton” tells the story of one of the United States’ founding fathers with rhythm, rhyme and a diverse cast that break the mold for Broadway shows and how Americans view the past. Writer Elizabeth Trovall explains.
Text by: Elizabeth Trovall
Country: USA

he smash Broadway musical “Hamilton” has put a fresh spin on an important chapter of U.S. history—its independence from Britain and foundation as a nation. The award-winning musical explores the rise and fall of founding father Alexander Hamilton, the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury and George Washington’s right hand man. Now this isn’t just any musical-turned-civics lesson—it’s as American as it gets. Boasting a diverse, multiracial cast, Hamilton’s biography via Broadway is told through a musical genre born in the United States: hip-hop.

Born out of wedlock in the Caribbean, Alexander Hamilton was orphaned at a young age and came to the United States through a scholarship to study in New York City. The musical starts with a penniless Hamilton, eager to prove his worth and join the revolution against Britain in the 1770s. Passionate, hard-working and a gifted scholar, Hamilton rose through the ranks during his service throughout the American Revolutionary War, and eventually became chief aide to General George Washington. The musical follows Hamilton throughout his rise, as he goes on to write the Federalist Papers and work as the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, all the way until his untimely death in a legendary duel with Aaron Burr.

Though Hamilton’s arc drives the action of the musical, a great deal of the songs and scenes explore the different perspectives of the time, on what the United States should be. Some of the musical’s important characters are the founding fathers every American student is taught about in middle school—Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Aaron Burr—they’re all singing and battling it out for the sake of a new nation. Seeing the wars, debates, and scholarship that shaped a nation come alive through music and drama, humanizes a crucial period in U.S. history.

The man behind “Hamilton”

During a vacation from his work on the Tony -winning musical “In The Heights,” Broadway actor, lyricist, and MacArthur Foundationgenius grant” winner Lin-Manuel Miranda picked up Ron Chernow’s biography “Alexander Hamilton.” Fascinated by Hamilton’s meteoric rise and tragic fall, Miranda thought the story of the founding father was ideal material for a musical— and was surprised it had only been made into a play once before. From there, Miranda started writing the musical’s lyrics. He performed a preliminary version of one of the musical’s memorable numbers at the White House. The Obamas loved it. Miranda went on to finish the musical and eventually star as the title role.

Cabinet battles turned rap battles

Part of “Hamilton’s” genius comes from the masterful rap lyrics that not only capture the complex economic and political ideas of the time but also are entertaining, accessible, and pack an emotional punch. Though the ideas explored during the process of American independence are present throughout the course of the musical, two songs in particular exemplify Miranda’s expertise in bringing a modern-day audience into the high-stakes drama of the time period. In the song “Cabinet Battle #1,” for example, Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson debate the establishment of a national bank and who should assume state debts.

Jefferson:

Ooh, if the shoe fits, wear it
If New York’s in debt—
Why should Virginia bear it? Uh! Our debts are paid, I’m afraid
Don’t tax the South cuz we got it made in the shade
In Virginia, we plant seeds in the ground
We create. You just wanna move our money around

Meanwhile, in the number “Cabinet Battle #2,” Hamilton and Jefferson debate whether or not the United States should stay neutral during France’s war against Britain in efforts to persuade President Washington.

Hamilton:

You must be out of your Goddamn mind if you think
The President is gonna bring the nation to the brink
Of meddling in the middle of a military mess
A game of chess, where France is Queen and Kingless
We signed a treaty with a King whose head is now in a basket
Would you like to take it out and ask it?
“Should we honor our treaty, King Louis’ head?”
“Uh… do whatever you want, I’m super dead.”

Multiracial casting

One aspect of the musical that has garnered a lot of attention is the mostly black and biracial cast, who don’t exactly represent the whiteness of 18th century American politicians. The use of rap music combined with multiracial casting makes the musical relevant today, as the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse and as minorities make their mark on American society. Through these inclusive artistic decisions, Miranda is connecting immigrants and minorities in the 1700s with immigrants today. For example, in the song “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” French immigrant Marquis de Lafayette and Hamilton rap about making a name for themselves, writing themselves out of their circumstances in their new country:

Hamilton & LaFayette:

Hey, yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry, and I am not throwing away my shot.

They also share the following line:

“Immigrants. We get the job done.”

The musical asserts that there is nothing more American than being an immigrant. Alexander Hamilton used to be a poor immigrant and now has his face printed on the $10 bill. Immigrants today also have their shot at making a difference through hard work and tenacity.

Rejuvenating the American musical

Alexander may be dead—but “Hamilton” proves the American musical surely is not. Thanks to its mass appeal, the show has challenged what a musical can be. The American musical theatre reached its peak relevance between the 1940s and 1960s. Though Broadway continues to draw in substantial audiences, the role musical theatre plays in modern-day culture has subsided, which is what makes “Hamilton’s” success even more significant. The cast performed at the 2016 Grammy Awards and won the Grammy for Best Musical Recording. Even more impressive is the fact that “Hamilton” reached #1 on Billboard’s rap music charts and was Billboard’s Top 200 highest debuting cast recording in over 50 years. With thousands of people downloading the album, “Hamilton” is reaching an audience much wider than most musicals before it. Also impressive is the fact that President Obama has seen the musical live twice.

Within the theatre world, the show is also a smashing success. “Hamilton” has won numerous theatre awards since debuting off-Broadway in February 2015. Now on Broadway (where it’s sold-out for months), the show is slated to win several accolades at this year’s edition of the prestigious Tony awards.

Fact Box

Alexander Hamilton was born in January 11, 1755 or 1757 in Charleston, Nevis, British West Indies. He was not only the father of the National Coast Guard but also the founder of the New York Post, a newspaper.

George Washington was born in 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia, British America. He was the first president of the United States of America and served for eight years. He is considered among the three best presidents the country has had.

Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743 in Shadwell, Colony of Virginia, British America. He was the third president of the United States and served for eight years. He is also known as one of the greatest presidents of the U.S.




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American history with a hip-hop beat


smash Broadway hit "Hamilton" is teaching US history to a new generation in a unique and entertaining way. The award-winning musical explores the rise and fall of founding father Alexander Hamilton, the United States' first Secretary of the Treasury and George Washington’s right hand man.

Alexander Hamilton was born out of wedlock in the Caribbean and became an orphan when he was still a boy. He moved to the United States with a scholarship to study in New York City.

The musical starts with a penniless Hamilton joining the American Revolution against Britain in the 1770s. The musical follows Hamilton throughout his rise, his writing of the Federalist Papers and his work as the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury, all the way until his untimely death in a legendary duel with Aaron Burr.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, an award-winning Broadway actor and lyricist, wrote the musical after reading Ron Chernow's biography on Alexander Hamilton. It is not a typical musical, it has a diverse multiracial cast and is set to hip-hop music.

The success of "Hamilton" is due in part to the masterful rap lyrics that capture the complex economic and political ideas of the time but are also entertaining, accessible, and pack an emotional punch.

Within the theatre world, the show is a smashing success. "Hamilton" has won numerous theatre awards since debuting off-Broadway in February 2015.

 

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American history with a hip-hop beat

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